Columbia shares an unfortunate characteristic with cities like St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Chicago: all of them are Midwest cities with heroin abuse on the rise, according to St. Louis Public Radio, News9 in Oklahoma City and the Chicago Tribune, respectively. In 2012, 14 Columbians suffered overdoses, four of which were fatal, according to ABC17. The Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office told the website that heroin deaths were expected to rise in 2015.
“Just like any crime, heroin use can fluctuate,” civilian information officer Bryana Larimer said. “So when we talk about a growing problem, it’s just really hard to identify the changes in how it works because it’s something that we’re always targeting.”
In the time that the police department has targeted the drug, shocking results have emerged. Investigations of three different heroin deaths were underway by the summer of 2015. In March of 2016, four people were arrested in Columbia for the possession of drug paraphernalia and having 80 doses of heroin. Larimer said this year police believed a local convenience store was supplying K2, leading to investigations. The police found a large quantity of the substance, she said.
“This year, what they have seen is heroin related cases have been pretty steady,” Larimer said. “Now that is something that we are actively working with. It is something that our [Vice Narcotics] unit takes very seriously, and it’s something that they’re constantly out trying to get information on and trying to make arrests if necessary”
These arrests did not come quickly enough in some cases. Former RBHS student, 17 year-old Seth Brooks’ brother, Lucas Brooks, died from a heroin overdose on June 2, 2015. Lucas Brooks, an RBHS alumnus, was only 21 years old when he lost his battle with the drug. This deeply affected Seth, who fell into depression after his brother’s passing and has become critical of the situation that caused this heartache.
“I think [the police] need to focus less on people selling it in Columbia and more on who is bringing it in,” Brooks said. “If they stop the inflow they can kill the drug.”
Early recognition is a key to curb the use of the drug, Brooks maintains. Larimer agrees and believes early intervention can save heroin users. She said getting a user help from a place such as Phoenix Health Programs or another one of Columbia’s rehabilitation facilities is crucial.
“It’s important to know those signs because maybe you have a friends or family member who might need help in that area,” Larimer said, “If you can recognized the signs, then you might be able to be their saving grace in getting them the help that they need”
Brooks concurs; except for him, there is no ‘might.’ Brooks believes if he or his family had allowed themselves to see the marks of addiction, his brother’s fate would have been changed.
“We could’ve been less naïve.” Brooks said. “I think the signs were there the whole time, but we just never picked up on it.”
In light of the recent epidemic and deaths such as Lucas’s, the community has reached out to support addicts’ recovering. While RBHS itself doesn’t offer any rehabilitation programs, it does attempt to help addicts in other ways on the road to recovery.
“We’ve got lots of different avenues,” Nurse Tammy Adkins said. “I would say it’s more of a comprehensive coordinated approach, some curriculum in various classes, outreach counselor, guidance, disciplinary things.”
When a students enroll in rehabilitation, the school does its best to accommodate them, Adkins said, whether it be by altering their schedule or homeschooling. The school also watches for the signs of drug abuse, and will then confront the suspected student-user. Brooks, Larimer, and Adkins recommend that everyone be aware of the signs of drug use.
“There’s several different things that drugs can do,” Adkins said “You have a change in behavior or changes in speech patterns or watching the eyes change.. lack of coordination, those would all be sort of red flags that there is some sort of substance use.”
Brooks believes people must be cognizant of these signs. As the problem with heroin in Columbia continues, so must be a discussion of all that could happen. Brooks desires a truthful discussion, not one that downplays the outcome of heroin abuse or one that blames the addicts. For him, this discussion is particularly relevant to families.
“I mean just letting kids know the hard truth,” Brooks said, “Parents kind of sugar coat the truth when it comes to drugs. If you do heroin, you will slowly kill yourself.”