About 85 percent of Lycoming County Drug Court defendants are addicted to heroin. For every one addict who has found help in the system, there are 10 more who haven't yet been caught, according to James Schriner, a county probation officer. And the problem is getting worse.
In the first 11 months of the year, the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission has treated 278 clients who identified heroin as their primary drug of choice. In 2011, they treated 173 heroin addicts in the same time period.
The drug, which is highly addictive and readily available, creates physical dependency in the user. The euphoric effect lures people from all walks of life, from high school students to the elderly.
"Addiction happens as readily to the wealthy and educated as it does to anyone. There is no stereotype for an addict," Jennifer Reeder, the commission's assistant director, said.
"There are a number of reasons people turn to drugs, such as curiosity and escape from life's problems, but ultimately they are all attempting to fill a void in their lives," said Reeder.
Once you're hooked, it's almost impossible to stop without help, Shriner explained.
Those who are concerned they may have a friend or family member using heroin should look for paraphernalia, such as syringes, orange syringe caps, and small 1-inch by 1-inch glassanine bags that may contain white or brown powder residue.
"Look for track marks on the arms," Shriner said. He added that many users will wear long sleeves, even when it is warm outside, to hide track marks and bruises.
However, track marks are not only found on the arms. Users can inject anywhere they find a vein.
"You'd be amazed some of the parts of the body people will inject at if they want to hide their use - anywhere and everywhere," Shriner said.
The potency of heroin means that users no longer have to inject the drug. They also may smoke or inhale the substance, Shriner warned.
He recommended looking for items such as razor blades and cut up drinking straws.
Users also experience behavioral changes such as lethargy, irritability, and loss of appetite. Dilated pupils are another clear sign that someone may be using opiates, Shriner said.
For those ready to seek treatment, the first step is asking for help, Reeder said.
"It can be a daunting decision, so reaching out to healthy family and friends can make a big difference," she said.
Reeder explained that addicts can call the number on the back of their insurance card, or a self-help hotline such as Narcotics Anonymous.
Those with no insurance, or who are on medical assistance, may contact the commission.
"The mantra is changing people, places and things - anything tied to the lifestyle you have in your active addiction can trigger a relapse. It's important to be in an environment that feeds the belief that you have the power to live without drugs and make positive life changes," Reeder said.
"Family members of addicts are often embarrassed to have that person arrested. But if they cannot convince their loved one to get into some kind of treatment program, then they need to call the police so that we can get them into a program," Shriner said.
"This is an extremely powerful drug and very rarely will someone be able to quit on their own," he added.
Reeder agreed that recovery without support is almost impossible.
"The fight to preserve funding for prevention, intervention, and treatment is critical," Reeder said.
"Addiction is a disease that has been compared to diabetes with causes, symptoms, and of course a progression, treatment, and a natural outcome if left untreated. We don't refuse to treat diabetics who relapse by failing to abide by the recommended diet or medication regimen, but many would refuse treatment to an addict who relapses," she observed.