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Heroin use is up in Eastern Panhandle

February 01, 2001

Heroin use is up in Eastern Panhandle



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Health care officials say they are seeing a marked increase in heroin abuse in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

Doctors are treating people who are abusing heroin as well as a substance called oxycontin, a derivative of heroin that is prescribed as a pain reliever, health officials said.

Three years ago, EastRidge Health Systems was fielding about one or two calls a week from people seeking help from heroin abuse, said Caren Forestandi, coordinator of substance abuse and crisis services for EastRidge.

Now the center at 125 E. Martin St. in Martinsburg is receiving up to seven calls a week from people seeking help, Forestandi said.

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Health officials and police are particularly concerned about heroin because of its extreme addictiveness and its deadly effects. A heroin overdose can cause death, and use of needles to administer the drug can lead to diseases like AIDS or hepatitis, said Forestandi.

Forestandi could not say how many people EastRidge is treating for heroin abuse, but she said there is someone in the center almost every week to be treated.

"I think you will find statewide that is an issue," Forestandi said.

"It's probably more prevalent in the county than what people want to believe," said West Virginia State Police Sgt. S.E. Paugh, who works in the Jefferson County detachment of the state police.

John Duwel, a Jefferson County physician who is an addictions medicine specialist, said he is treating at least one person a week for heroin abuse.

Duwel said that when he was growing up, the worst trouble youths were getting into was drinking beer. Now youths are drinking beer and snorting heroin, and it's "turning into a disaster," Duwel said.

A teenager who was getting help from Duwel for heroin abuse told Duwel there are at least 500 other teenagers in Charles Town who are hooked on heroin, Duwel said.

Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge said he has trouble believing that figure.

Aldridge said his police department has only caught two people with heroin in the past year.

"I'm not sure there's 500 kids in Charles Town," Aldridge said.

Jesse Jones, chief deputy of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, said heroin use is going on throughout the area, primarily the Blue Ridge Mountain area and other hot spots, he said.

"Heroin abuse is on the rise and you're going to see more of it," Jones said.

For some reason, heroin abuse seems to be more prevalent in Jefferson County than Berkeley County, said Rick Coffinbarger, coordinator of the Community Prevention Partnership, an organization in Martinsburg that teaches children how to avoid drug abuse.

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