Report: Heroin an epidemic in parts of Fla.

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A newly released report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows a heroin epidemic is underway in parts of South Florida, but other hot spots for the deadly drug include Sarasota, Orlando and Jacksonville.

Gateway Community Services is a local center that prevents and treats the effects of addiction, and it says it has seen a recent uptick in the number of patients being treated for heroin.

One 35-year-old Jacksonville woman, who didn't want to be identified, said after years of heroin addiction, she came to the point where she knew she couldn't live like that anymore.

"'What is wrong with me? Why can't I stop?'" she said. "I just didn't know, and I really wanted to but I couldn't do it."

She was pregnant at 13 and began drugs when she was 15. Not even losing her seven kids could keep her from the deadly drug.

"I would have thought losing my kids would be enough, but this drug is so powerful it didn't stop me," she said.

Four months ago was the day when she knew she had to turn her life around or she could end up dead. She's becoming healthy and stable through help with Gateway Community Services, and now hearing that the drug is becoming an epidemic in Florida is terrifying to her.

According to a newly issued report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin deaths that occurred in statewide facilities rose from 62 in 2011 to 117 in 2012 -- an 89 percent increase.

Florida's pill mill crackdown in 2011 increased the prices of prescription pills, sending drug users to heroin, a much cheaper drug they can find on the street.

Prescription pills can sell for $30 to $40 a pill, but someone can get a bag of heroin for as low as $10.

Since December, Jacksonville police have made 12 arrests for heroin.

This study also points out concern over heroin involving a high risk of infected syringes, increasing the threat of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission. The 35-year-old woman said when she was on drugs, she was living in a made-up world and thought nothing bad would ever happen to her. Now she's living with HIV and said it can happen to anyone.

"Drug addiction doesn't discriminate," she said. "HIV doesn't discriminate."

She said Gateway Community Services is helping her turn her life around. Karen Tozzi, vice president of the center, said she unfortunately knows firsthand that this report is accurate.

"We were contacted last week about the same issue," Tozzi said. "We had 10 people in a 30 bed detox that were there for heroin overdose or treatment. So it's alarming when you look at it."

The 35-year-old said heroin will ruin your life and that she doesn't know where she would be without Gateway.

"This is the greatest decision I ever made in my life," she said.

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.