A community summit was held today at UAB to address the growing heroin epidemic in Alabama. More than 300 people attended the all-day seminar entitled: Pills to Needles: The Pathway to Rising Heroin Deaths. Community leaders, representatives from the Justice Department, emergency medical services, law enforcement and others gathered to discuss the extent of the problem, and work toward a solution.
Assistant Special Agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Clay Morris, said the problem is bigger than most people realize. "Within a couple of years we saw a 450 percent increase in the number of overdosed deaths attributed to heroin. Statistically, when you look at that, that goes from 14 or 15 in 2010, to over 80 in 2012, which is a significant, significant increase." Those statistics reflect overdoses in Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa Counties.
ABC 33/40 Anchor Pam Huff moderated a panel on the rising overdose death rates and the effect on the Birmingham community. Speakers pointed to a rise in prescription opiates which lead to a rise in heroin deaths. United States Deputy Attorney General James Cole from the U-S Department of Justice was the keynote speaker.
Chief Assistant District Attorney of Shelby County, Jill Lee, said, "We're seeing so much heroin, and what we're finding is that parents and leaders don't know that heroin is an emerging drug, and that our young people are using it."
A young man who used the drug is 20-year old University of Alabama honor student Baker Mims. He died of a heroin overdose. His mother, Beverly Mims told ABC 33-40, "Our son was such a good kid, and so many people think that this doesn't happen to a good kid." Beverly and her husband Robbie broke their silence after 15 months in an effort to help save other teenagers who may not know how dangerous heroin is. "We feel God's using Baker's story to help others. That's very obvious to us, and that's one reason we're here."
Law enforcement is cracking down on drug dealers. U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama said "Heroin carries a special penalty, and that penalty is for an individual who sells heroin that results in an overdose death. The penalty is a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence in federal prison." Vance said her office recently charged the first defendant under this provision in this district.
Robbie Mims offered advice to parents. "Talk to them about it. Tell them this is the one thing you don't want to play with. Don't experiment with it. I mean, there's just that one time and then there may be no turning back."