Community leaders are fighting back against an emerging heroin epidemic that is taking a toll on Monroe County.
In 2012 Monroe had 40 drug related deaths, 15 directly linked to heroin, according to county health department figures.
This year, Monroe is on pace to pass these numbers, hitting a record high for drug-related deaths in the county.
“Monroe has the highest rate of heroin addiction per capita in Michigan,” said April Demers, of the Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition (MCSAC).
Lt. Mary Kapp, an administrative leader with Monroe Area Narcotics Team and Investigative Services (MANTIS), agreed the county has a serious heroin problem.
“We need to stop this epidemic before it spreads even more,” Lt. Kapp said.
Many professionals say a recent influx of prescription pills is the new gateway for harder drugs such as heroin. Prescription pain medicines such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Oxycodone, which are prescribed for severe pain, are being taken by teenagers and young adults.
According to the Center of Disease Control, drug overdose deaths have tripled in the past 25 years, and 75 percent of those deaths are directly related to prescription pain meds.
The black market price of these prescription drugs can range from $10-
$60 per pill, if not more, depending on the strength and availability, according to a Monroe resident who attended a recent rally against heroin.
“It’s cheaper, and easy to get,” he said.
The combination of addiction, availability, and high prices of pain medications can lead some people who become addicted to turn to the cheaper alternative – heroin, Demers said.
The issue has surfaced recently at MCCCC.
Michelle McDevitt, vice president of MCCC’s student government, recently formed a subcommittee to address substance abuse issues, and how to spot signs from someone who is using.
McDevitt said there was no opposition from fellow student government members when she proposed the subcommittee.
She personally contacted April Demers from, MCSAC, to get more information; pamphlets were distributed throughout the college.
McDevitt said she also has had personal friends and family members who’ve struggled with addiction.
“I’ve had friends who used and gotten clean, and some who are still using,” she said.
Most of the people she knew who were using heroin started out by using pain medications, McDevitt said.
On Friday, Nov. 22 the community took a stand against this issue with a downtown rally attended by hundreds.
Meghan McCollum, an ex-MCCC student, along with her friend Melina Horrell, decided to make the thoughts of the community known in downtown Monroe.
It all started through social media.
Meghan said that she had had enough. After the death of a close friend about a month ago, which was caused by heroin, she decided to take action.
“I noticed people commenting and mourning on Facebook, and thought that something needs to be done about this,” Meghan said.
Melina Horrell added that she lost a few family members due to Oxycontin abuse, and currently has family members still using.
“The addiction is bad, why would you still use it if you seen what it did to your family members,” Melina said.
Meghan said she went to city council meetings, created a Facebook page, and it just exploded.
“I thought maybe 20 people would go,” she said.
The day before the rally, 1,200 people confirmed that they were going to attend.
“The want and need is there, people are looking for help,” said Melina Horrell.
It was a cold, rainy Friday morning as hundreds of people gathered outside of Monroe’s City Hall to let their voices and presence be known.
Local government officials, addicts, family members of addicts, parents and spouses who lost a loved one; even concerned parents with younger kids all attended the rally.
“I just want to be informed as much as possible, I have a daughter and son in middle school,” said one man attending the rally.
Volunteers showed up early to set up tables, and hand out pamphlets on awareness, prevention, and recovery, others provided drinks and food.
One volunteer was an MCCC student, Marli Ziegler.
“I made an announcement in my classes to make students aware of the rally,” Marli said.
The Rally started off with a prayer for the families who have dealt with addiction, followed by the playing of the song “Amazing Grace”.
Meghan McCollum spoke, thanking everyone who showed up, expressed her sympathy, and warned local drug dealers to find another town.
Mayor Robert Clark spoke, saying that the community needs to continue to be involved and help assist the police force if they have any information on suspected dealers in the community. He also expressed his sympathy to those who have lost a loved one to drug addiction.
Meghan McCollum said the purpose of the rally was to bring awareness, and to encourage parents to talk to their kids about the issue.
“Parents need to secure and be discrete with their medications,” Meghan said.
Meghan also added that she was not bitter toward local law enforcement but she wants them to “get to work”.
Meghan and Melina said the rally was intended to break the taboo of drug abuse, and for non-users to understand and help people who are stuck in addiction, and not look down on them.
“Monroe’s claim to fame is it’s a great place to raise your kids, I grew up in this town, and still love this town,” Said Melina Horrell. “People want their community back”.