Heroin: Cheap, easy to score and growing popular in the suburbs

07/27/2013 3:48 PM

07/27/2013 3:48 PM

Christian Moffitt is reluctant to talk about the lowest point in his heroin addiction.

“I’ve had multiple rock bottoms,” the Overland Park man says.

Pick one. Busted by the police? Getting kicked out of his parents’ house? Burglarizing a friend’s house for money? Spending his 21st birthday in a Johnson County jail cell?

But his biggest, worst moment came last summer. A burglary conviction landed him a year in the big house of the El Dorado Correctional Facility. He was mopping the corridor outside the “supermax” cells of the most notorious inmates one afternoon, taunted and screamed at. Each cell door cleared the floor by barely an inch, allowing a room’s contents to spill into the hallway, shredded newspaper, feces, vomit

He realized he was cleaning outside the cell of the BTK killer. Dennis Rader, serving 10 life sentences for binding, torturing and killing victims in the Wichita area, was silent at least.

Moffitt, now 22, had to ask himself how he’d ended up in same place as a serial killer. At 6 feet 4 inches, around 200 pounds, Moffitt had played football at Benedictine College, where he had a scholarship. He was a high school graduate from St. James Academy in Lenexa, a good student, a polite guy. Even today, he says he doesn’t smoke and disdains alcohol. His family has never heard him utter a profanity.

Now, the smells, sounds, sights and fears from prison life are the DNA of his nightmares.

“Yeah, it was bad really bad,” the soft-spoken young man says. “As bad as you can imagine and then more. Those inmates only get out (of their cells) maybe an hour, once a week. I got out at least 41/2 hours every day.”

He spent hours alone in his cell, thinking and reading. He saw friends there, too, other addicts. Prison, he says, is where people feel their lowest, the most hopeless, the most broken.

Although heroin was rife behind the fences of El Dorado (and in one of the half-way houses he was assigned to afterward), he decided he wanted more from life than being an addict.

Since his release last fall, Moffitt has gone back to heroin once, he admits, but he says he is clean again. Relapses are not unusual, as the overdose death of “Glee” actor Cory Monteith reminded the public.

Although he’d shared about his addiction, many fans were still surprised by Monteith’s July 13 death, thinking he had purged his demons. He had a reputation of working hard on the show’s set, looked fit and healthy.


Heroin crosses all social lines, although white kids are the fastest-growing demographic using it, experts say. Heroin is most popular in the wealthier suburbs of greater Kansas City, says Lauren Moyer, the clinical director of Behavioral Health for Swope Health Services. “In fact, white women 30 or younger are the fastest-rising group of users in our area.”

Usage in the United States will continue to rise, Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told Congress in April. The National Institute on Drug Abuse surveyed young adults who shoot up with heroin and learned that nearly half of those users first began by abusing prescription opioid painkillers, especially OxyContin.

Moffitt took that path to find heroin.

He encountered drugs at a high school party, he says, where an assortment appeared like colored candies. He was 17 years old the first time he shot up.

“My friends and I were basically trying everything we could find. If you wanted to take a drug that would help you get things done, you reached for meth. If you wanted to relax, you took Oxy.”

Moffitt says addiction didn’t come immediately. Still, he remembered the sensation, the good feelings, the rush of euphoria. Soon, when he was stressed out, he’d ask friends for the drugs. He noticed how bad he felt the next day. So he got high again. Then again and again.

He learned where he could score Oxy, anytime night or day in Johnson County. But the cost grew too high, $50 to $80 a pill. Turning to heroin was “a business decision,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “Heroin was a lot cheaper and gave an instant high. I switched.”

One statistic looms among all the government agencies monitoring heroin usage. Three years ago, the average age of a first-time user was 26 or older. Now the average user is 21. And rehab centers are learning that heroin is no longer the end drug in a line of addictions but that it is becoming the first drug of choice by experimenting teens.

In 2010, 70 Missourians died of heroin overdose deaths. The rate has since tripled, Moyer says.

In Johnson County, Kan., Deputy Sheriff Tom Erickson, a public information officer, says that before 2007, heroin usage was “just a smattering of cases. But that all changed in 2008.”

That year there were 32 cases where officers had some contact with people and the drug. “I’d say we’re on track to have 40-plus cases for this year,” he says. “Although other drugs will peak and then get back to statistical normals, heroin is staying up there. We believe we’re seeing it because prescription pain pills are getting more difficult to get, and their price is increasing. People are turning to heroin.”


A Google search for substance abuse treatment brings up hundreds of rehab centers with costs varying from a little to thousands of dollars. In Jackson County, Swope Health Services offers help through Imani House, a 30-bed facility where people usually stay 28 days.

The majority of Swope services are paid for by the state of Missouri and through Jackson County’s Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax, or COMBAT.

Swope tries to help the entire person, even after rehab, assisting with dentistry or a doctor visit, finding help with living expenses, trying to help the person get out of whatever situation drew him or her into drugs in the first place. “We have a whole person approach. We want to be people’s health care home. A one-stop shop for care,” Moyer says.

Counselors understand that it often takes more than one rehab stay to kick the drug habit. Moffitt has gone through several substance abuse treatments, most at Valley Hope Association in Atchison.

“They are really good,” he says. Counselors there showed him ways to deal with stress and his drug cravings. How to avoid the situations that compelled him toward the drug. His last rehab stay, number four, ended July 3.

Each day without drugs is another day to celebrate for Moffitt. He was clean for more than six months, but in May his ailing grandmother died. At the same time, both his father and his brother were hospitalized for medical issues, and his mother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

“It was too much for me,” he says, shaking his head in shame. “But I know the tools to help me deal with stuff like that now.”

The most frightening part, he says, is how easy it was to access heroin again. He went back to the same Kansas City area he’d gone to years ago, around 34th and Garfield streets. He asked for “the boy,” slang for heroin. “The girl,” he says, is slang for cocaine.

“I couldn’t handle everything that was happening in my life. I used. But I couldn’t bear being an addict again. I told my probation officer and then my parents,” he said. “I knew I needed help.”

He has a sponsor now and attends regular Alcoholic Anonymous meetings for support. As mandated by his probation, he is randomly checked for drug usage. He takes one day at a time.

His future for now doesn’t include far-reaching plans. Just baby steps toward a better life. He’s looking for a job, living with his parents, making payments on back court fees and working out in martial arts to stay healthy.

Heroin is not the easy fix. He’s retraining his brain to purge the craving, replace it with something better, like exercise. He has one thought that keeps him going every day.

“You don’t see many old addicts.”

A long list of casualties

Heroin doesn’t discriminate. Rich or poor, black or white, famous or not. Here is a list of celebrities whose addiction contributed to their demise.

Charlie Parker:

Known as “Bird,” virtuoso jazz saxophonist, of pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer.

Sid Vicious:

Bassist for punk band the Sex Pistols

River Phoenix:

Promising young actor (technically died from speedball, a mixture of cocaine and heroin)

Jim Morrison:

Lead singer of the Doors

Janis Joplin:

Raspy-voiced folk-rock singer

John Belushi:

Great comic of his generation (speedball)

Robert Pastorelli:

Actor on “Murphy Brown”

Hillel Slovak:

Founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Chris Farley: Former “SNL” comedian

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