Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - 22–year–old Silver Bay native Justin, who will remain on a first–name basis for confidentiality purposes, came to Duluth six years ago to help his music career blossom.
Whether it was peer pressure, excitement, or an escape from anxiety, Justin began smoking marijuana, and drinking alcohol.
"They call it teenage angst, I guess—kind of to get away from that," said Justin inside the MN Teen & Adult Challenge campus.
That, he said, led to hallucinogens, and eventually prescription painkillers.
"Lortab to Oxycontin, to Opana, Hydromorphone—which is argued to be stronger than Heroin," said Justin, agreeing with the argument from personal experience. "Definitely Heroin usage, and opiates in general—[it's] just a downward spiral, and it's really hard to get back up from that."
It's that gateway from prescription painkillers to heroin, says Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, is a major drive for heroin's popularity.
"What's happened now is that folks get hooked on these, and then they progress to heroin because, in some cases, it's easier to get a hold of [and] can be cheaper, and it spirals," said Chief Ramsay. He added that, since 1993, opiate prescriptions have increased by 300 percent. "So what may seem like an innocent enough drug to help you with pain management has really turned and ruined many lives."
Chief Ramsay says brown heroin is currently most common, and it's making its way to the Northland from Chicago.
With its sale: according to Chief Ramsay, comes the majority of Duluth's property crimes to feed addiction, and gang–backed gun violence to defend the product, "and because the gangs control illegal drugs, there's violence associated with that," added the Duluth Police Chief.
As for Justin, he's nine months sober from opiates with help from Minnesota Teen and Adult Challenge.
After losing six friends to heroin, and getting his life back on track, he says he hopes Monday's session will shed light on just how dangerous, and addictive, the drug really is.
"It was definitely off track," added Justin. "I lost everything."
Chief Ramsay says heroin use and sales have grown nationwide, and police departments across the board are working to stop its spread.