Marion, Ohio, just north of Columbus, used to be an idyllic place to grow up. Kelly Clixby and Beth Carey remember what it was like a generation ago, when they were young. "I lived across the street from one of the big parks here," Clixby says. "We would rip n' run all day and all night and come in when the street lights were on." "It was just a nice place to live," Carey says.
Today, Marion is different. It's grappling with a full-blown heroin epidemic, one that derailed Kelly Clixby's life and killed Beth Carey's twin sister. This week on For The Record: one small town copes with the ravages of addiction.Nationwide Crisis, Personal Cost
Deaths from heroin have been skyrocketing over the last few years — among all age groups, across all races and in all regions of the U.S.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, more than 8,000 Americans died of heroin-related overdoses in 2013 — nearly three times as many as died in 2010.
But the risk hasn't dented demand. Heroin is cheap, abundant and accessible, and communities across the nation, from big cities to small rural towns, are struggling with the consequences. In Marion, Ohio — once a thriving steel town — the trouble arrived around 2007, when the police started seeing balloons of heroin during routine traffic stops.
Since then, heroin has changed many lives in Marion. It took Chrystina Carey's.
Beth Carey had started worrying about her sister when they were in their early 20s. At that point, Chrystina was hanging around a different crowd than her twin, taking ecstasy while working as a dietary manager.
"She was on call all the time," Beth Carey says. "She said, about the ecstasy ... she was taking it to stay up when we would go out on the weekends." At some point, Chrystina switched from ecstasy to the painkiller OxyContin — and then, eventually, to heroin.
"She OD'd and went to the hospital three times," Beth Carey says. "Out of the six or seven years [she was on heroin], she was probably incarcerated a good two, 2 1/2 years."But still continued to use drugs."
The last time Chrystina Carey got out of prison, she went to stay at an addiction recovery house in the next town over.
Kelly Clixby was living there, too, grappling with an addiction that began with prescribed painkillers and led to heroin. She knew Chrystina well."That was my best friend," she says.
Clixby remembers the night before Chrystina Carey died. She was heading out with someone known to be wrapped up in drugs and Kelly was worried.
"I said, 'If you leave with that person, you're probably going to die tonight.' And I was being sarcastic ... by no means did I mean it.
"And she left. And at 8 o'clock the next morning I woke up to a phone call that she had died. She had overdosed, after seven months of sobriety."Witnessing the death of her friend had a profound impact on Clixby's own sobriety.
"It terrified me," she says. "For a long time after that I stayed clean just ... so I wouldn't disrespect her, or so her death wouldn't be in vain."'Burnt Every Bridge They've Ever Had'
Marion Police Chief Bill Collins has witnessed many overdoses like the one that killed Chrystina Carey. Back in May of this year, he said his team was responding to as many as two or three in a single hour.
"You walk in and you know, you see somebody that's blue. I mean, to you they appear to be dead," he says. Then the officers would administer a drug called Narcan. "It's like a miracle drug," Collins says. "Within 30 seconds they snap out of it. They wake up. They look at you like they don't know what happened." Collins would tell survivors how lucky they were to be alive, how close they came to death.
"We would get called to the same house and people had just seen somebody overdose and they would still do it," he says. Collins remembers several years ago when all he had to worry about in Marion was crack cocaine. And at least crack addicts, he says, could somehow hold a life together. It's a different story with heroin users, he says.
"These people are not able to hold a job," he says. "They steal their family blind to the point where the family just pretty much disowns them. "It doesn't take long for you to end up seeing a heroin addict that has burnt every bridge they've ever had." The drug is the root cause for many of the other problems his department faces, he says.
"All of the property crimes we have — the shoplifting, the thefts, the robberies — all go back to one thing, and that's heroin."Opiate Blockers Offer Some Aid
Narcan can save the lives of heroin users on the brink of death, but another drug, Vivitrol, helps addicts avoid getting there in the first place. Vivitrol is a big reason Marion has been able to get some sort of grip on its heroin epidemic. The drug is an extended-release opiate blocker. Kelly Clixby, Chrystina Carey's friend and a recovering heroin addict, explains how it works.