Heroin Highway: Part 1 'Baltimore,' Let's start at the beginning

Heroin Highway: Part 1 'Baltimore,' Let's start at the beginning (An ABC7 News week-long special)

Heroin Highway is a dubious nickname for the corridor along Interstates 70 and 81 that begin in Baltimore and run through Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.

While Baltimore is not the reason why heroin use is exploding in local communities, police across the area say their heroin addicts are driving to Baltimore to buy the deadly drug, sometimes even twice a day.

7 ON YOUR SIDE stopped in Hagerstown, Martinsburg, and Winchester and everyone with whom we spoke blamed the escalating demand for heroin on the wave of prescription pain pill abuse. The cheaper form of the same is heroin. It's an opioid.

A former heroin addict who kicked the habit 90 days before we met her said of heroin, "it's so much easier to get and quicker."

As for supply, time and time again, fingers pointed to Baltimore which has been a heroin stronghold since the 1940's and it's just a car drive away.

A Martinsburg resident who said his brother was a former addict said, "That is what he was doing just running back and forth to Baltimore."

And Berkeley county Sheriff Kenny Lemaster said, "Baltimore seems to be the closest and easiest place that most of the heroin that we are getting now is coming from. We have groups that pool their money together and one takes a turn and goes and picks it up."

Former Maryland State Police Major James Pyles said users sometimes make two trips a day, "We learned through an investigation, a young girl logged 10,000 miles in one month driving from Alleghany county to Baltimore city to go get her heroin."

Heroin distribution channels in Baltimore have long been established. Maryland state delegate Brett Wilson of Washington County, who was elected in 2014 said, "One of my regrets as a lifelong Marylander now being in a position where I have an opportunity to try and change something is how we were just pushing Baltimore aside for years."

Then the buyer changed.

"Now all of a sudden heroin has made its way out into the white suburbs and the attention that is being given to it I applaud, but it is attention that quite frankly should have been given to this epidemic a long, long time ago," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, the city's top cop.

Davis took command a year ago and traveled to Colombia, which is a major producer of heroin. Davis said he made a commitment to the war against heroin explaining, "We have more detectives assigned to work with DEA agents than we have ever had."

Davis urged outside communities to focus on treatment for their heroin addicts. "Any jurisdiction outside Baltimore who thinks that their residents are coming to Baltimore to purchase heroin that tells me, maybe, they need to strengthen their commitment to treatment," he said.

He added, "I have been to places in the city where I know without a shadow of the doubt that a person or a vehicle is here to purchase narcotics. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out."

Is the solution to the rising tide of heroin use across the area in Baltimore?

Israel Cason had a 30 year heroin addiction laced with jail time, homelessness, and near death. He's been shot 13 times. He kicked heroin in 1995 and began a tough love, total abstinence program, "I Can't, We Can."

"They can stop they just need to learn how to stop. We have a tendency to want other people to do it for us that is part of the disease you won't do nothing for yourself," Cason said someone who wants to break free from the addiction must be immersed in a therapeutic community.

"Psychological, sociological, biological, and spiritual that makes a human change is the only antidote to the problem," he said.

Cason explains more than 20,000 addicts have passed through his doors.

He said, "A lot of these people been out and came back three or four times." That added to the loudest cry we heard all along the heroin highway.

"We need more money in treatment," exclaimed Kevin Simmers. The Hagerstown father was a police sergeant for years. He lost his 19-year-old daughter, Brooke, to a heroin overdose just months ago.

Getting rid of the demand does mean attacking addiction, because supply sources can and will adjust. Karl Colder, special agent in charge of the Washington field division of the DEA explained it's already happening.

"You have distribution points from Detroit and Chicago that are working their way in West Virginia...gangs distributing for the major cartels."

That would make the alleged beginning of the heroin highway in Baltimore no longer the only supply source.

Want to learn about Israel Cason's, "I Can't, We Can" counseling center. You can also check out this YouTube video.

Coming up Part Two: Hear the full soul shattering story of former Hagerstown police sergeant and father, Kevin Simmers. What he thinks now about this life or death battle after heroin got it its hook in his own home. This airs on Tuesday, Feb. 16 on ABC7.

Need help? Click here for our substance abuse treatment page.

Remember don't forget our substance abuse phone bank coming up on Friday, Feb. 19th. Click here for more information.

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