Even though he was in a daily haze of heroin and speed, Steve can remember clearly the day he hit rock bottom.
His parents were away on a vacation, and Steve needed more drugs. So he pawned $3,000 worth of his family’s possessions.
“At that point I didn’t really even care if I was alive or not,” said the 22-year-old Minneapolis man. “Nothing else mattered besides getting high.”
It’s a story that has been increasingly common in Minnesota and Wisconsin, in cities as well as small towns and especially among white men ages 18-25.
It’s why Steve will be among former addicts, and family members of addicts who have overdosed, who will be speaking at a forum Thursday in Hudson, Wis.
The idyllic town on the St. Croix has seen its share of drug tragedies: at least seven people under the age of 25 have died of overdoses in the past two years. In the county, more than a dozen have died.
In Hennepin County, seizures of the drug have doubled, and 37 people died of overdoses in 2012, a sharp rise from the four deaths in 2008.
Carol Falkowski, a drug addiction expert, said one of five treatment admissions in the Twin Cities are for opiate addiction issues.
“The number of people coming in with heroin addictions surpasses the number who were coming in during the peak of the meth epidemic,” Falkowski said.
Many young people get started the same way Steve did. A four-sport athlete in high school, Steve started taking narcotics such as Vicodin to deal with pain after knee surgery. He asked that his last name be withheld because he doesn’t want to ruin job opportunities.
Steve got hooked on the pills, which drew him into the world of illegal drug buying and, eventually, to someone who offered him something stronger.
“I got turned on to it one day by a friend and it progressed so fast I don’t even remember it much,” said Steve. “It was very easy to buy.”
Before long, he was shooting heroin and speed, lying to family and friends and stealing to get money for the drug.
“I have great parents. When I told them I was shooting heroin, it blew their minds,” Steve said.
Meg Heaton has seen the effect of heroin in Hudson from different perspectives. She’s covered the issue for the Hudson Star Observer. But she’s also on the board of the Hudson Community Foundation, which is sponsoring the forum to alert the community to the growing problem.
“I have been a reporter in Hudson for more than 23 years,” Heaton said in an e-mail. “I have written many difficult and tragic stories over that time, but among the most alarming to me has been the impact of heroin on too many of our friends and neighbors, on young people who played soccer and hockey and baseball with our children and parents we know from church, parent groups and as co-workers.”
Falkowski said that a national study in which federal agents bought and tested heroin in various cities found that the drug is both less expensive and more pure in the Twin Cities than anywhere else.
“In Minneapolis and I assume Hudson, heroin is just a text message away,” Falkowski said.
Hudson police Sgt. Geoff Willems said heroin abuse “cuts across all socio-economic lines. We’ve seen it in middle-class families, in upper-class families and with straight-A students and athletes,” he said. “It’s bizarre. We’ve got to get a handle on this. It’s not just a police problem, it’s a community problem. We can’t do this alone.”
Heaton said she’s hoping that the willingness of Steve and others to share their stories will help the community fight the heroin craze.
“I think parents in Hudson ought to be more aware that their kids could be using heroin,” said Steve, whose family didn’t know for a long time “because you become a professional at hiding it.”
Steve has been though treatment several times, and has now been sober for more than a year.
“It makes me sick to think about what I’ve done,” Steve said.
“I am a good person, but the drug took over my life. A year and a half ago, I had no outlook or no future. Now I do. If I can help save one person, it will be worthwhile.”