Heroin use rising, meth remains problem in Allegan Co.

ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — Methamphetamine use remains consistently strong in Allegan County and officials are concerned about a sharp increase in heroin use.

Roy Bixler is a cautionary tale of drug use.  He said he used to run businesses, he used to hire people, until he decided to take a hit of meth one night, more than 10 years ago.

“You try it once you’re in,” said Bixler.  “I just felt like superman…one try and I was in. That’s all it took. It was a horrible drug.”

Bixsler started with meth, using and eventually selling it, until he saw what other meth addicts were doing.

“I think seeing the guy letting his 13 year old make it, and smoke it, is what I was upset to say the least,” said Bixler.

He said after that day he didn’t quit, instead, he moved on to cocaine — both using and dealing.

He was eventually arrested nearly 19 months ago, and given a chance to go through the county’s drug court program instead of going to prison.

He said it’s a life saver for those willing to make a change.

“When you’re in jail, you’re thinking, ‘I could be facing up to 20 years of this non-stop,” said Bixler.

But sometimes jail isn’t enough for an addict to make a change, Bixler said.  He’s seen Allegan County’s meth problem first hand — one that’s stayed fairly stable for years.

“Sixty percent, maybe a little bit higher, of our case load year, after year, after year is meth related,” said MSP F/Lt. Andy Fias. Fias is the section commander of the West Michigan Enforcement Team.

The county overall saw nearly 140 meth related crimes in 2010, more than 140 in 2011 and more than 160 in 2012.

Last year, Fias said, WEMET found 64 meth labs in Allegan County. “Those are just the ones that get reported to the federal government, but the number of meth-related crimes are one and a half, two times that,” said Fias.

“I’ve been in this job almost 10 years, and meth has fluctuated up and down, but not enough up and not enough down to say that we’ve made a huge impact,” said Heidi Denton, who works with Allegan County substance abuse prevention.

The number of meth users has likely remained steady, Fias said, because meth is easy to make and easy to get.

Officials are trying to fight it through raising community awareness, and programs like the drug court Bixler used.

“The only way you’re going to stop this, is to stop the cooks. You don’t stop the cooks you ain’t done nothing,” said Bixler.

Bixler also said he understands the need for addicts to replace their drug of choice with whatever’s available. He said he thinks that’s what’s leading to the heroin increase in the county.

“Heroin is starting to come from Grand Rapids to Allegan County. I know a few people that are using heroin. It’s a supplement for methamphetamine so if you can’t get amphetamines you can always get heroin,” said Bixler. “They have to have something, they’re addicted to drugs.”

Replacing one drug with another is what’s causing heroin use to spike in Allegan County, the state and the country.

Over use of prescription drugs, then when those go away people turn to heroin.

That means WEMET saw zero heroin related investigations in the county in 2007, one in 2009, one in 2010, two complaints last year and two the first half of this year alone.

Fias put heroin related arrests at two in 2013 and six last year.

“We’re just dealing with the people we catch,” said Fias. “There are probably several more out there that we aren’t dealing with, that aren’t getting caught by the police.”

The numbers themselves aren’t as concerning as the upward trend is.

Fias said the small numbers were what Muskegon County saw several years ago – now they see dozens each year.

“That two and six number might be 30 or 40, two years, three years from now,” said Fias.

Law enforcement, public health and court officials joined Thursday to learn about how to prevent heroin use, and the need for treatment once someone’s hooked. The goal is to prepare rather than waiting for the problem to get worse.

“There’s help out there, and the help doesn’t have to be criminal charges, but if it gets to that point there is help out there and there’s more you can do than to say I give up. I’m addicted. There’s no more I can do,” said Denton.



Substance Abuse Coalition

2012 Allegan County Annual Report (pdf)

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Behavioral Health Treatment Services

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