The Face of Heroin in Central Illinois

Published 05/01 2014 11:11PM

Updated 05/01 2014 11:40PM

PEORIA - You've heard its name.


But do you know what it's doing to your community?

Heroin and the hold it has across central Illinois.


You can find it just about anywhere, sometimes for $6 or $8.

It's a highly addictive and fast acting opiate that can be injected, smoked, sniffed, or snorted.

And experts tell us there's a direct correlation with prescription drugs and heroin use.


 Captain Dave Briggs of the Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement group says police have cracked down hard on the illegal use of prescription medication.


That's driving their cost up.

In turn, it's driving the price of heroin way down.

“I think the general public would generally be surprised on how available, or how easy it is to buy it. I know when I took over the MEG Unit, I was definitely surprised. It basically is on the next door street corner,” explains Briggs, director of the MEG unit.


 It's probably happening in your neighborhood.

 And it's definitely happening to people you may never expect.


 In Peoria County alone, in 2013, there were 49 deaths related to illicit drugs or prescription medication.


Fifteen of those were from heroin use.

It starts, and continues with people trying to chase that very first high.

And it's killing people because it's being made more pure than ever before.


We’re sharing the stories of three men who don't want it to happen to anyone else.

They’re sitting where they are today, after paying a dear price.

They chased heroin until it took control of everything they had.




Ten years old.

The first time Elray Prophet ever used.


“I grew up that way, and quite naturally, drugs was in my neighborhood, I took a lifestyle of living that life. And it only stopped after 55 years,” says Prophet.


For David Richardson “Well, my story goes back, all the way to 1968, when I started using heroin. I didn't go to jail until I was over 50 years old,” he says.


And Joe Smith remembers his first run in with addiction, 29 years ago, like it was yesterday.


“The first drug I ever used was alcohol at the age of 11. I didn't immediately drop out of school, but it was a steady progression downward,” says Smith.


From there, it only spiraled down.


“I found recovery when I was 25, I was shooting dope and went toxic, went septic, almost died in the emergency room,” says Smith. “I grew up in a really average middle class town, my parents were school teachers. I don't have any hard luck stories, you know, but I was completely in the grips of an addiction that I was trying to hide from everyone."


But everyone knew.

Joe went on to stay clean for 10 years, until it all came crashing down, again.


“The thing about recovery is, you get stuff back. And I got a family and a wife and I was blessed with the birth of my child I had a great house and a job and a car. It took a few years, but, I burned it to the ground again, but, that's how we go. I've found,” says Smith.


It is how they go.

The heroin grabs hold in ways unimaginable, making life and recovery a constant battle.


“Everything in my life consisted of just getting high,” explains Prophet. “I woke up to get high. I went to sleep to get high."


“I didn't hide it,” explains Richardson. “I just left. They knew, I’d stayed with my parents until I was 27, that was nine years of this heroin addiction and I just left."


These men know their clean dates like birthdays.

They know it comes with the territory.

And know they have to be brutally honest about what they've been through, if they don't want to go back.


Prophet says, “The biggest change in my life is being able to wake up in the morning without wanting some drugs…you know? It's been a big change. But also the fact that, you know, I used to envy what I would call normal people. How can they get up and go to work and here I am and I can't even move. You know what I mean. It's just…to live a normal life, man, that's great. Because, my addiction had me…to where there was no life at all."


“Live a normal life,” echoes Richardson. “Have money in my pocket, that's a big change, being able to do things when you want to do ‘em. I'm going to take a cruise, stuff like that. It's 'another universe."


“The peace, he quiet mind, not looking over my shoulder,” says Smith. “Fixing and planning and scheming and worrying. The wanting to live, giving my best to being a productive member of society."


Lives spent, chasing peace, and against all odds, finally finding it.

Finally having something else, something good to be addicted to.


“I think I could speak for all of us that we pay a dear price to sit in this chair. We paid for this spot,” explains Prophet. “They don't have to sit here. Life is good. Life is great. It all depends on what you choose to do.”


 Joe didn't want his face to be shown, or for us to use his real name.

 Those three men have been in and out of rehab.


But they're all clean now, through methadone treatments and programs like “Narcotics Anonymous”.


The number of people seeking treatment has doubled within the last year.


So, what can you do if you know an addict or are worried about it affecting someone you love?


Most teens use because of how accessible the drug is and many don't understand how dangerous it is.

Parents, you can look for signs in your kids like decreased family involvement, grades dropping, friendships changing.


You can't completely limit social media--but perhaps most importantly, you can monitor what your child is doing and you can get help.


Places like The Human Service Center in Peoria provide a wide array of treatment and counseling for substance abuse victims. 


The Jolt Foundation is another resource. Started by Peoria doctor Tamara Olt who lost her son, Josh, to heroin two years ago.

Dr. Olt provides training and consultation for people seeking Naloxone, a prescription drug, often used by emergency medics and doctors, and reverses heroin overdoses.


There are also organizations like The Substance Abuse Prevention or "SAP" Coalition in Peoria County.

It helps prevent and reduce substance abuse through education and awareness.


Their next meeting is May 21st at the Hult Center for Healthy Living at 5215 N Knoxville Ave, Peoria.



What is heroin?


-Heroin is a highly addictive drug and the most rapidly acting of the opiates.


What is its origin?


-Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants.


It comes in several forms, the main one being “black tar” from Mexico and white heroin from Colombia.


What are common street names?


-Big H, Black Tar, Chiva, Hell Dust, Horse, Negra, Smack, and Thunder.


What is the effect on the mind?


-Because it enters the brain so rapidly, heroin is particularly addictive, both psychologically and physically. Heroin abusers report feeling a surge of euphoria or “rush”, followed by a twilight state of sleep and wakefulness.


What are its overdose effects ?


-Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at a high risk of overdose or death.

The effects: Slow and shallow breathing, blue lips and fingernails, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, and possible death.








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