CrimeTracker: Number of addicts, heroin deaths spiking

"We've got people dying of overdoses. We've got people dying from violent crime and we've got this ever-growing population of people with a terrible addiction," says DEA Agent Keith Brown.

Heroin, often described as one of the most potent and highly addictive drugs, is also the most frequently used among opiate-dependant addicts.

"We're seeing a spike, a rapid increase in the number of suburban, middle-class heroin users. That's our largest growing abuse population," says Brown.

Brown says it's across the board, and every parish in the region has seen a spike.

"It's an area problem. It's not a city of New Orleans problem. It's not a Jefferson Parish problem. It's not a St. Tammany Parish problem. It's a problem for all of us. We are all going to pay the costs of losing lives to drug overdoses and to losing lives to addiction," says Brown.

With a heightened level of concern, Jefferson Parish Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich joined local experts in the field of substance abuse to talk about it.

"In Jefferson Parish, we've seen a spike in the past two years of about 50 percent more than we had in previous years of heroin-related deaths," says Cvitanovich.

The purpose of the town hall meeting is to educate others about what's happening.

"It's a one-way street that's very difficult for people to back out of," says Cvitanovich.

"Everyday I'm like a dog. I wake up every day and wonder where I'm going to get it from," says Steven Crappel.

Steven Crappel, an admitted heroin user, has been struggling with his addiction for years.

Shortly after he was arrested in St. Bernard Parish for heroin possession, he became filled with emotion as he described his constant battle with the drug.

"I mean it hurts. Some people say well you're just a dope head and you don't care, but I think about it every night. Sometimes I cry. I keep doing this to my mom. I'm scamming to get money and stuff," says Crappel.

Brown says a spike in heroin addiction in any particular area will affect an entire community.

"One of the first things that starts to happen is property crime," he says.

He says some addicts will have to spend between $100 and $200 a day on heroin.

"They start stealing. They start lying and will do anything they can to get money. You start seeing more cars broken into and housing broken into and purse snatchings because people are so desperate," Brown says.

He says making arrests is part of the solution, but solving the real problem may only happen when the community is educated on the dangers of heroin in an effort to prevent people from ever turning to the drug.

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