CHALMETTE, LA (WVUE) - Heroin use has become an epidemic in communities across the region. The drug is showing up in neighborhoods no one expected, and people from all walks of life are becoming addicted.
We've already explored the law enforcement side of the heroin problem, as local, state and even federal agents are now working together to bust users and dealers.
Tonight, we show you another angle to this story: A heroin user describes his everyday battle with the drug.
Steven Crappel, an admitted heroin user, has been struggling with his addiction for years. Shortly after St. Bernard deputies picked him up for heroin possession, Crappel said his life is a mess.
"Everyday I'm like a dog," Crappel said. "Now I got to wake up every day and wonder where I'm getting it from."
Crappel believes heroin has consumed him. He remembers when he started using years ago while drinking alcohol with his friends.
"I was drinking one night and they were doing it and I just - I was scared," he said. "I was literally scared of needles. Now I could sit there and I can't believe I'm doing it."
Crappel said the first time he got high on heroin, he knew it wouldn't be his last. His addiction grew from there, and he admits he has used nearly every day since.
"I think about it at night, and I can't even enjoy it anymore because I always think about where my next high is coming from," Crappel said. "I don't want to go to sleep at night because once I go to sleep I wake up and I'm sick again."
For an addict, within hours after the drug's effects wear off, the user's body begins to crave more, and withdrawal sets in. Symptoms can include restlessness, aches, pain in the muscles and bones, diarrhea and vomiting.
"I don't want it anymore, but I can't stop doing it because I'm going to be sick, you know?"
"Generally, if you're getting arrested for drugs or drug-related crimes, generally you're in pretty deep," said St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann. "And it's not easy to get out when you're in that deep."
Pohlmann said help is available, but rehab can be extremely expensive and there's no guarantee it will work, simply because the addiction is so intense.
"The alternative is jail or death, and if you don't have some type of intervention, sometimes jail is that intervention that you need to survive these things," Pohlmann said.
In jail, Pohlmann said heroin users will likely become extremely sick, but they'll also sober up. This gives others a chance to reach out to them and offer help.
"Then you can go in there and they can look at these four walls and say, 'is this what my life has come to?' and then they have to make a choice," Pohlmann said. "'Do I want my life to continue to be like this, or I could end up dead or I can try to get my life back.'"
Crappel said right now, he's shooting up to simply feel normal. In the meantime, there's been a trickle down effect that's causing his family disappointment and pain.
"I've done put my mom through so much stuff," Crappel said. "It's killing me more than anything. My mom - they really don't know too much. I was the only one that ever did the heroin, ya know, so they really don't know too much. It's affecting me more cause I'm doing that to my mom, ya know, and she don't really know."
Crappel said he tried to get help once, but left the rehab clinic before he could detox. Within hours, he injected heroin again.
"I mean, it hurts man," he said. "Some people say, well you're a dope fiend, and you don't care, but I think about it every night. Sometimes I cry. Man, I keep doing that to my mom. I'm scamming to get money and stuff. All she does is keep trying to help me, and I just keep doing the same thing. It's killing me. It's killing me on the inside, man. I'm dying."
Law enforcement officers admit that no amount of arrests will end the heroin problem. They say education is key. Officers say it's important to talk to children and young teens now about the dangers of the drug.