The wax paper packets are stamped with names like "Facebook," "Major Pain," "Death Sentence" and "Voodoo."
It's easy to transport, cheap, pure and readily available in Lycoming County.
It's also one of the most addictive drugs known to man - heroin.
Its calming effects entice users across all races, economic classes and religions. And once they're hooked, most people will not be able to stop using without professional intervention.
Earlier this year, police started to see a rise of heroin-related overdoses, which led them to believe that the heroin coming into Lycoming County was quite pure. Around the same time, authorities also began noticing a marked rise in overdoses and heroin-related crime.
Medics are receiving weekly reports of heroin overdoses - people who are technically "dead" but may be brought back with an injection of Narcan, a medication that reverses the effects of opiates.
"In the earlier part of the year, there were a lot of near-deaths. Some individuals were technically dead but were able to be brought back with a Narcan injection. That tells me that the
potency was higher at that point," said city police Capt. Michael Orwig.
Jennifer Reeder, assistant director of the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, has also seen the devastating effects of this potent heroin.
According to the commission, about 18 percent of the clients they've treated since the beginning of the year have identified heroin as their primary drug of choice. That percentage is up from 11.2 percent last year for the same time period.
"The purity of heroin is greater than it has ever been, which feeds the addictive properties still further," she said. "Once caught in this cycle, life problems develop as a result and that also feeds the ongoing use, as the addict feels powerless to change the circumstances and believes escape back into the drug is the only option he or she has."
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 23 percent of people who use heroin will become dependent on it.
"Heroin is not a drug to experiment with. It is known to hook people on their first try," Orwig said.
Heroin mimics the brain's naturally produced chemicals responsible for happiness, such as endorphin. Heroin use also disrupts the chemical process which regulates dopamine production, causing the brain to become flooded with dopamine. These two processes combined result in the euphoria, peace, and calm users experience.
Long-term heroin use will change the brain's chemical structure, Reeder explained. Because heroin mimics the chemicals that let us feel happiness, users are literally incapable of experiencing joy without opiates. Simple things which normally cause a person to feel joy, such as a hug from a friend, or a peace of chocolate, no longer hold much meaning for the opiate addict.
"After using heroin the rebound effect, ultimately withdraw, is dramatic. Addicts often feel like they are going to die, or perhaps even wish they would. That alone leads the addict back to using again if only to relieve the effects of withdraw," said
"With ongoing use the body chemistry is significantly altered that misery is prolonged with post-acute withdraw. Users may feel lethargy... the inability to experience any real normal pleasures... and the inability to mister the motivation to do anything," she added.
This depression often leads users, even those who have weeks of sobriety under their belt, back into a life of heroin use. Old friends, lack of problem-solving skills, and even the relentless marketing schemes of drug dealers threaten the former addict on a daily basis.
"I realize that addicts make a choice, but I also know drug dealers who have given 'free' packets of heroin away and often regularly call the addicts to see if they 'need anything,'" said Old Lycoming Police Sgt. Christopher Kriner.
Those who continue to use are often forced into a life of crime to support their habit. About 30 percent of people suspected or arrested for theft in Lycoming Township police's coverage area admitted to being addicted to heroin or prescription medication, Kriner said.