OxyContin to Heroin: Epidemic sweeps the Valley

FRESNO, Calif.

Action News Anchor Matt Keller shows us the changing face of heroin, and why experts say an epidemic is sweeping the Valley.

Heroin addicts know they could end up in the back of a police car, but how they got here is changing.

A Fresno man's 23 year old girlfriend did not want to be identified, but explained to us inside the Fresno Police headquarters how they got started.

"He started taking Vicodin, then up to 30 mg of oxy. After the oxys, we switched over to the heroin because it's cheaper and it goes further."

She says she met her fiancé while he was at college in Arizona. He is a Buchanan High School graduate. His drug addiction started first, and soon after this daughter of a police officer, from a good family, tried OxyContin. Slowly her life fell apart as they both became addicted to heroin. They came to Fresno, and live in a car.

"You don't have your place to call home, you don't have a job, and you don't talk to your family. You don't have any friends anymore."

Fresno Police gave us a rare behind the scenes look at their evidence room, where undercover officers test the drugs. The heroin looks the same, but the addicts are getting younger, starting as teenagers and coming from more well off families.

Lt. David Newton said, "North end folks coming to other parts of Fresno. Southeast, Downtown, Southwest to score heroin."

The main reason people switch from OxyContin to heroin is because of the price. One pill of OxyContin is 20 dollars. One dose of heroin is 10 dollars."

A 29 year old, who does not want to be identified, Started using OxyContin when he was 22 years old. His girlfriend gave him a pill to try. Four years later he had little money, his dealers were arrested, so he switched to heroin.

"Because it's the only thing that's strong enough. The only equivalent to OxyContin."

He has been clean for more than three months now, after going through detox and rehab at "11th hour" in Fresno.

Director of Clinical Services Melissa Fairless has seen many people like him walk through these doors. "I would say at least half of our clientele nowadays has to do with the heroin and narcotics abuse."

Black ribbons hanging in the group therapy room are a reminder of the people who have been here in just the past year, but lost their lives to their addiction. This man survived his darkest days on OxyContin and heroin, but now suffers from pain and insomnia.

Matt Keller asked, "If you could talk to 22 year old you, what would you have said to yourself at that time when you were going to take that first pill?"

He replied, "In my case, I'd simply just say I wouldn't even try it once, because once you try it once it's too late."

The pill, to heroin, to the streets, an epidemic sweeping up more and more young people in the Valley.

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