Their faces are what stop you.
One is of a knockout gorgeous woman. Another of a former judge. There are innocent-looking 20-somethings and haggard-looking old men and women aged beyond their years. White people and people of color are among them.
They are the faces of heroin.
Fellow journalists from around the country have been emailing these photos my way as part of a three-day series of stories Civitas Media is publishing about heroin abuse. It begins Friday in the Bladen Journal (running three consecutive Fridays), and is a tale of what many are now calling the “heroin epidemic.”
Is “epidemic” an overstatement? After all, who or what constitutes something being classified truly as an epidemic? I cannot answer that question, but I can tell you that of the 35 newspapers from 12 states participating in this series, all but a few of them reported major problems with heroin in their markets.
It’s a cheap drug that regards human life even more cheaply. In that sense, we chose to kick off the series with photographs of people who have struggled — even died — from heroin addiction. The idea is to drive home the notion that terrible things such as addiction can happen to anyone.
The beautiful woman mentioned above had it all. She was an outdoors enthusiast who owned a popular sporting goods business in Illinois. Heroin took her life. A judge’s involvement with heroin came to light after a fellow judge’s cocaine-related death. In another case, a mother talks about watching her daughter taken from her home in handcuffs, hoping and praying that her child somehow will survive this terrible addiction.
Hope is the word that people cling to: The hope of being able to fight off the drug’s demons one more day; the hope of being that responsible parent again; the hope of saving a child’s life; and the hope of keeping a community safe.
This project began in January. I have since lost count of the deaths and arrests made during that short three months in the many communities where Civitas owns newspapers. The tragedies never take a day off or slow down. Not in cities like Lima, Ohio; or Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; or in rural counties like Bladen.
The questions continue to be raised:
Why would a person fool around with heroin? What are the warning signs of abuse? How can you help someone work through an addiction? What’s the toll of abuse on a family and a community?
We found the questions are many, the answers are fewer, and they come filled with pain.
The one thing that is constant: The problem haunts us in ways that few could imagine.