As Alabama tightens regulations on prescription opioids, officials say heroin use is skyrocketing.
WAAY 31 took a look at the alarming epidemic happening right here in North Alabama. We found out heroin is reaching a whole new demographic of users.
The CDC reports heroin use has increased in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women, the privately insured and people with higher incomes.
A North Alabama woman, Allison Bullen, told WAAY 31 her family took custody of her daughter as she fights a heroin addiction that nearly destroyed her life. She said right now, her number one priority is getting her life together so she can see her three-year-old daughter.
"Hopefully, I will be able to get my visitations back with her and have her full time. That's what I'm praying for," Bullen said. "I have not seen my daughter since January. My family, my father has custody of her."
At first it was prescription opioids. Then, a friend introduced her to heroin. She says it was cheap at $20 for an all-day high that helped her escape pain.
"My addiction started, I would say 6 years ago after my mother passed away from terminal cancer. I was a college student and I dropped out and started hanging out with the wrong people. Instead of getting counseling or going to grieving counseling, I started using drugs," Bullen said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths. More than 15,000 people died in 2017 alone. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths increased by almost 400 percent.
"It was very easy to get heroin. With me, it started off with purchasing pills and that's very expensive, and I found it very easy and accessible to get heroin. It's very dangerous. All drugs are dangerous, but I've lost five friends to drugs in one year because of heroin overdose," Bullen said.
Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said he has seen the uptick in cases locally, and it has started to hit his county hard.
"We've had several overdoses in the last month. We don't send them off to an autopsy if it's a for sure overdose," said Joey Rushing, Franklin County District Attorney. "Heroin is something that we've heard about for a while in Franklin County. Someone is starting to sell heroin and someone is starting to use heroin. But about 6 months to a year ago, all of a sudden we started seeing cases on it, and the rumors turned out to be true."
Right now, Bullen is receiving treatment at a facility called the Love Lady Center. Once she graduates from the program, she plans to get a degree in counseling and help others overcome what she is going through.
"It has broken my family and destroyed my life, but thank God I am on the path of righteousness and a brand new life," Bullen said.
Bullen said the thought of reuniting with her daughter keeps her motivated everyday, and she can't wait until they are together again and to help other mothers battling addiction in her community.