Monday, September 29, 2008

Pregnant and Addicted to Heroin

Expectant Mother Is One of Many Addicts in America's Heartland

RICHLAND COUNTY, Ohio, Sept. 29, 2008

Merry Doerr has spent her whole life in the American farmbelt, a rural pocket of green tucked into the middle of Ohio. She's close to her family, living with her mother and 4-year-old daughter.

With her blond hair and blue eyes, Doerr embodies the classic American look -- and says she grew up with classic American values.

"When I grew up, my mom had raised me in Christian beliefs," she said, "and I knew ... right from wrong based on the Bible. I was a cheerleader. I had a lot of friends."

But life is different now. Doerr, who is five months pregnant and preparing for her second child, is not like other young mothers. She's a heroin addict.

"I wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning, dope sick with my stomach in cramps and sweating," she said, describing the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. "I have to get up out of bed at 4 o'clock in the morning, and go and use. And then I go back to bed and I wake up a few hours later and have to go use again."

Doerr said she uses heroin to keep that pain at bay.

"This is what I need to be normal," Doerr said. "You know I have to do dope every day to be normal. If I didn't have my dope this morning, I would be laying in bed right now thrashing around and vomiting. I wouldn't be able to function. I need [heroin] to function every day."

'Snowing Heroin' in Rural Ohio

It turns out that in the rural heartland of Ohio, halfway between the big cities of Cleveland and Columbus, heroin is everywhere.

"I would say it's up to epidemic proportions as far as the heroin," said Dane Howard of the Huron County Sheriff's Office. "Everywhere you go, it's like it's snowing heroin."

People here say heroin is indeed blanketing the main streets of tiny towns such as Plymouth, Ohio, where Doerr grew up. Doerr's mother, Patti Case, a schoolteacher, said so many people in their town of 1,800 were addicted to heroin that she moved her family, hoping to distance her daughter from the problem. But they found that the problem stretched across the region.

"There's probably not a family here, not just Plymouth but the surrounding area, that hasn't been touched by heroin," said Charlie Doan, chief of the Plymouth Police Department. "I think a lot of that started with Oxycontin."

In the mid-1990s, OxyContin, the highly addictive prescription pain killer, was being widely abused in rural communities like this one.

"About a decade ago, OxyContin got a strong foothold here in this whole region" said Howard. "The dealers drove the price up."

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