SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Across America, heroin is becoming the drug of choice. In South Mississippi, the same is true.
Hancock County Narcotics Commander Jeremy Skinner told WLOX News Now so far in 2016, 33 percent of drug related arrests in the county are for heroin. In 2015, heroin related arrests for the entire year was ten percent. In 2014, less than one percent of drug related arrests involved the drug.
Heroin is highly addictive and, in many cases, can have deadly consequences. WLOX News Now sat down with 23-year-old Coast resident "Jen", who is recovering from a heroin addiction.
"I was totally in love with this drug," said Jen. "I would have done anything to get it, and I did."
At the TNT Recovery Home in Gulfport, Kevin Dudenhefer says he needed to take the drug just to feel normal.
"I couldn't get my day started without it," said Dudenhefer.
Skinner says heroin use isn't confined to just one group of people.
"It's all walks of life, all demographics of people that we're seeing it," said Skinner. "It's predominately the people that have a prior abuse of prescription pills."
The latter was true for Jen, who was prescribed pain pills following a pair of medical procedures. When the prescriptions ran out and she felt sick from not taking the medication, Jen found another way to get the pills.
"This guy I went to high school with was selling them. I'm not really sure where he got them, but that's where I started buying roxies. Which, that's oxycodone."
Then, Jen says she was introduced to needles as a way to shoot up drugs like oxycodone. Not long, after she made the switch.
"I just dove straight into shooting up heroin," Jen noted.
All it took was one time; Jen became hooked instantly. Skinner says there's a clear reason for the progression from pills to heroin.
"It's a lot cheaper, and it's a lot more accessible on street than it is to do pills or to get illegal prescription drills now," said Skinner.
Hancock County is on the front lines of heroin use in Mississippi. Skinner says most users must travel to New Orleans to get the drug.
"We've even arrested several people who have told us they make two or three trips a day to New Orleans just to be able to buy their heroin, and come back here to use it," said Skinner.
Jen was one of those people who was able to find what she was looking for by just asking people on the street in The Big Easy.
"'You got any dope, you got any dope.' Just asking random people, and we found somebody. It's that easy," said Jen.
Needing to use multiple times a day, Jen would work double shifts at her job. However, it wasn't enough to pay for her addiction. Jen stole from various people; including her family. She even entered relationships solely for drugs.
Jen's entire life centered around heroin, and she was faced with a choice.
"Sitting in a dope house with no electricity or running water and your trying to find a vein, but all of them are collapsed. In a blink of an eye you're there, and you're like 'How did I get here?'"
In what she calls a moment of clarity, Jen chose change. Leaving drugs behind, she went on a trip with her family. Jen says she knew she was going to get sick from withdrawals and when she did, her family stepped in to help.
During the trip Jen checked into a rehab center. Once back home on the Coast, she started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings daily.
"It was the first time I felt like I could stay clean," said Jen.
Capt. Ryan Hearn with Harrison County's Narcotics Unit says the biggest defense against heroin is stopping someone from using before they ever try it.
"We need to look for people who have habits or addictions, that are getting addictions to pills and not letting that grow into something more than it already is," said Hearn.
Now clean for seven months, when Kevin Dudenhefer leaves the TNT Ranch he wants to earn the trust of his family back and start a normal life.
"Today, I don't crave the drug," said Dudenhefer. "I crave being a functioning member of society."
Jen hasn't used in a year and half, and says she wanted to tell her story to give hope for those who are still using. She's reminded of her struggle all the time at Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
"Newcomers come in and they share about how miserable they are, and that reminds me that I don't want to go back to where I was. If it can work for me then anyone can stay clean," added Jen.
According to a National Center for Health Statistics/CDC) study, 40 percent of current high school seniors believe it's not harmful to use heroin once or twice.