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Parents can overlook a lot. A teenager who smokes a joint, pops a pill, drinks a little too much is just experimenting. In over-the-mountain communities, there isn't much of a drug problem!

That kind of thinking can kill your child. The drug flowing through the veins of many young men and women in affluent communities in this area is not alcohol but heroin. Ninety percent of the heroin users in this community are from white, well-to-do families. Their drug of choice leads to many of them dying.

Hoover police chief Nick Derzis said, "We really haven't seen heroin affecting our high school students that we know of. But, here is the bottom line. It's in the community. If it's in the community and it's not in the high school yet, it will be."

Shelby county sheriff Chris Curry doesn't believe that heroin is actually on a school campus in his community, but, he quickly adds, "I do know it is in the high school environment."

DEA assistant special agent in charge Clay Morris warns there is little time to stop the rise in heroin use. "We absolutely have to get the word out through community organization, or civil organizations, or churches, faith-based communities and the school district because if we don't have a problem in the school districts, I assure you a problem is right around the corner."

Heroin, a drug of the 60s, has come back more potent, more powerful than ever. Its newest target is teenagers and young people in their 20s who don't realize what they are up against.

Morris says, "What we are seeing is a shift from what people would think is a traditional chronic heroin user ...That is an inner city user...to what we are now seeing today is a young, suburban user." Morris has investigated heroin operations across the United States. He says this area right now is at critical mass for heroin overdose deaths. "There is not really one community in the Jefferson/Shelby county areas that have not been touched by an overdose death this past year."

A young female heroin addict explains how easy it is to get a bag of heroin. She says, "Everybody knows to go to certain spots. Everybody knows those spots and they are there. They are waiting for you. Everybody knows the same phone numbers. You call those numbers; they tell you where to go. It's easy. It's very easy."

The users know the code words such as "sugar," "dog food," and "smack" and they've got to have it. A male addict admitted, "I would steal from my family...steal from my friends. I would steal from drug dealers that I knew were selling it just because that's all you are worried about. You are not worried about the repercussions of what you're doing. You're worried about that high."

Chasing that next high is what the addict lives for. The need for more and more heroin grows; so does the cost of the addiction to society. Hoover police chief Derzis recalls a recent rash of burglaries. "The last one that hit us pretty hard...the one in Bluff Park, Vestavia, kicking in doors was a heroin addict that needed the fix. That was stealing whatever he could steal during the day, selling it and getting money for the fix that night and back at it the next day."

Many reading this will deny that heroin could ever be a problem in their family. Sheriff Curry warns, "You’ve just identified the conversation that always happens. No, my child wasn't doing heroin. They don't want to talk about it. They don't want to admit it. Even if they suspect it in the death, they don't want to say those words."

Area law enforcement wants to shout this message to every parent. Jefferson county sheriff Lt. Mike Davis says "they need to intervene quickly. They need to intervene intensely. It is a life or death struggle. They shouldn't think someone is going to grow out of this."

Posted: Nov 20, 2012 10:14 AM CST
Updated: Nov 20, 2012 10:14 AM CST

By Pam Huff, ABC 33/40 News

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