MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - You see heroin abusers on the television and in the movies but they may not act or look like you think. They could be your next door neighbor, even living in your home. "You got young people dying left and right. We have such a big problem," says Danny Molloy with the Addiction Prevention Coalition.
In Alabama heroin use is a growing epidemic. Take Jefferson County for example, in just one year the overdose rate has doubled. What's even more alarming, this is happening to young people, including high school students.
"The coalition I'm at, we are in 17 area schools, and we see heroin in all of those schools. We see it everywhere," claims Molloy.
He knows all too well about the dangers of the drug because he was an alcoholic and addict for 20 years. Now he speaks to students, hoping they won't follow in his same path. He was at the 12th annual Alabama Youth Council Conference, part of the state program called FOCUS which teaches students about risky behaviors affecting them and their peers. He hopes it will change those behaviors, including heroin use.
Experts say the drug knows no boundaries, but there does seem to be a common thread between heroin and prescription pills.
Molloy says Alabama "is the number one state for prescribed narcotic pain killers in the United States." He warns, "almost every heroin addict that I know has started with pharmaceuticals."
The statistics are alarming. One in every 15 people who take a non-medical pain killer will try heroin within 10 years. We're also told 64 percent of children who do pills for the first time get them from their friends' and family's medicine cabinets.
"People are willing to try a pill. What happened was they changed the chemical makeup of Oxycontin, which a lot of people were doing. The next step from that, since they made it harder to abuse, is heroin," said Molloy. He continues, "you have a lot of people who were doing pills, now they switched to heroin, and they don't understand the dangers."
Molloy says there is hope, and if you talk to young people they will listen. "Kids want the truth," says Molloy.
As far as the students who attended the conference, they agree. Ada Ruth Huntley who serves as Focus President for Chilton County High School said, "we can have fun without doing drugs, or having sex, and things that can lead to destroying our futures."
Experts say parents should talk to their children. Tell them if they are ever in a dangerous situation to call, and know they won't get in trouble. Molloy says it's better to help your child than to have an overdose or drunk driving accident.
Some 400 middle and high school students from all over the state participated in Thursday's Alabama Youth Council.