Action News Jax Investigates: Resurgence of heroin in North Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A dangerous drug is cheap, easy to get and it's killing young people across our area.

"My son's name was Jeremy. He was 24 years old,” said Candace Davis.

One week after his 24th birthday, Jeremy overdosed on heroin.

"He was dead three to four days before they found him,” said Candace Davis. “He still had a needle in his arm, slumped over against the wall, sitting on the toilet fully dressed."

Jeremy Davis’ death is part of a growing trend. In one year, Florida saw a 126 percent increase in occurrences of heroin, and a 111 percent increase in heroin deaths, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Heroin is powerfully addictive and is injected, snorted or smoked. It's also become the drug of choice for many young people.

Sara, who is a recovering addict, said she first tried heroin when she was 14. "It's just euphoria, it takes away every worry and care in the world, and then it's evil because then all you want is more," she said.

The 2011 crackdown on pill mills in Florida led to fewer medications and higher prices on the black market. Drug users turned to cheaper, more easily accessible drugs like heroin.

According to numbers provided by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the number of heroin cases has quadrupled in the last 4 years.

A medical examiners report from 2014 showed the majority of heroin-related deaths in Jacksonville involved people 34 years old and younger.

"It's skewing younger and younger," said Bill Galer, Clinical Director at Beaches Recovery. "Part of it is the realities of insurance and insurance reimbursements, so some younger people are still on their parent’s insurance plans."

Sara said winning the internal battle with the drug takes excruciating effort, a willingness to change, and professional and family support.

"I thought I was destined to die. I was just another junkie living behind a grocery store sleeping in a tent,” Sara said. “Today, I'm employable, I have family back and I'm happy. So it's possible."

For others like Jeremy Davis, the call for help came too late. Jeremy Davis had filled out an application to enter rehab, but it was sitting in his car when he died.

"He would sit there and tell you, ‘Mom I hate being an addict. You don't know how I feel,’” said Davis. “He said ‘I don't know how to stop,’ and I didn't know how to stop him."

Family members, recovering addicts and health advocates told Action News Jax the only way to stop heroin use is through education, intervention and treatment.

"A lot of family members are not knowledgeable about what the person is going through, how they need to get sober. Then there's the old ideas that it's a moral weakness or the stigma that goes along with addiction, so there's a lot of education there,” said Galer.

There are a number of resources available for those battling substance abuse and their family members, whether you have insurance or not.