"It’s just all walks of life. People who come from a good home, they get addicted to it. People who come from a bad home, they get addicted to it,” said Special Agent Jay Perry of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force.
The task force says they first started to notice a rise in heroin usage in the fall of 2012
"We realized we had a problem on our hands about mid-2013," said Perry, when they went from investigating one heroin overdose death in 2012, to 21 heroin overdose deaths in 2013.
The task force is investigating their third heroin overdose death in
One of the problems, lies in it’s level of addictiveness. No matter their path to heroin, all users say the same thing: "Once you start using the needle you're never going to go back," echoes Capria Turner, a heroin addict and inmate at Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC)..
Officials say another part of the problem is a crackdown on prescription opiates like oxycodone, which are now harder to obtain, ten times more expensive and less potent than heroin.
And unlike the death rates from marijuana, cocaine, or even crack use, heroin surpasses them all. And previous addicts say that it’s that startling fact that actually gets users excited to shoot up again.
Colby Young, another heroin addict and inmate at NRADC, says that there’s a reverse psychological effect when a heroin addict hears about the news of an overdose death. “People are out here dying on heroin, [and you think] that would make them say, ‘I don't want to touch it.’ But you got to think, the people who are addicted, they think, ‘Oh man, this killed this person? I want some of that. See what it's doing to them? I want some of that.’” Young said.
"The sad thing is, is when you interview [addicts] and you talk to them, they want to get off of it,” said Perry. “They tell me, 'I'd do anything to get off of heroin.' So we lock them up, they get clean, and then they come right back out and do it all over again."
Perry said that he’s seen very few addicts actually overcome the addiction for good, and he believes almost 100 percent of hard drug users in the area end up back in jail after their first visit.
It's an addiction so strong that users put everything on the line just to get some.
Tabatha Jenkins has lost her husband and three children because of her addiction to heroin. "I've been found in people's ditches, yards, not breathing, unconscious, almost dying. I've been in and out of jail, prison all my life [for drugs]. I never got to see my kids grow up,” she said, struggling to admit her loss.
Jenkins first snorted heroin when she was only 13 years old, and shot up for the first time when she was 15. She says she didn't come from a family of drug addicts, but nevertheless, "skipped all the other stuff", like marijuana, and went straight to the harder drugs. Since then, she's been in and out of jail, including a four-year stint in prison for the last 15 years.
Her addiction to heroin is so powerful, that it has led her to bring it around her children. “I was shocked, that she would actually do that around me," said her daughter Jessie, who remembers finding her mother passed out cold in their living room after a heroin bender.
Thankfully, none of Jenkins' three children were born addicted to heroin, and while Jenkins may not be able to save herself, the kids say the exposure to their mother's life experiences have solidified their commitment to never try heroin.
"One night, we had a tornado warning and our mom was just worried more about drugs” said Jenkins' youngest son, Logan. He said seeing addicts with sores and lesions on their arms scared him, but he said his mother would reprimand him about ever using drugs, and they were never allowed to touch any paraphernalia they found.
Her ex-husband Brad admitted that he had purchased heroin for her, but only after there were no more options. “It would keep her calm,” he said. “An addict is going to do what they need to do. I learned a long time ago not to fight them.”
He said he does not keep the children from Jenkins, even though he has sole custody. “I let them go and visit. They know [about her addiction], you know? But they need a mother.”
Jenkins oldest son John seems to take his mother’s addiction the hardest. "I've lost my mom's will of love and her caring for me, and everything,” he said. “She's never been there."
(Note: Merris Badcock has been investigating the issue and will have more information over the next few days on what other individuals and organizations are doing to combat the epidemic.)