GREAT BARRINGTON

One of the more interesting advantages to living on Main Street in Great Barrington is that one sees things.

What I’ve been seeing in the past year are junkies on the street. The new junkie doesn’t nod off on a park bench, or fall asleep in the gutter. Some of them just look a little disheveled, some look really, really tired. And I’m willing to concede that maybe some of the people I see wandering downtown are tired, or just didn’t get it together that day.

But probably not. We read every day about significant drug arrests in Berkshire County, and a vast majority of them are for heroin possession or possession of heroin with intent to distribute.

The Berkshires are enduring a heroin avalanche, particularly
among young people and high school students.

What has sparked this surge of use is the availability and inexpensive nature of the drug. You don’t have to shoot heroin with a needle any more to begin to feel the pull of addiction.

Most of the time, it comes in a small capsule one can buy for as little as $10. That’s cheaper than some higher-end bottles of beer these days. And a lot of the time, first-time users may not know what’s in the capsule. (Drug dealers are not bound to quality control laws.) Maybe it’s cocaine, so they break it open and snort it up.

Since the late 1990s, though, the purity of the heroin police are seeing has gone up considerably, from roughly 3 percent to 60. It’s much easier to become addicted. But worse, it’s also a heck of a lot easier to overdose. And maybe die.

All one has to do is Google "heroin epidemic" or "heroin deaths" or a similar phrase and read the hundreds of stories of young people, mostly teens, becoming addicted and watching their lives drain away.

A counselor I know told me that unlike cocaine or marijuana, there are usually only two outcomes when one starts a heroin habit: Jail or death. Neither of those options is particularly pleasant to contemplate.

I know that some people reading this will shrug and decide that their kids are raised better than that and that they don’t have to worry about drug use.

But this situation is different. We all experimented with things as young people. That’s the nature of being young. If you fool around with this drug, though, there’s a good chance it will grab hold and shake the life out of you.

The head of the cheerleading squad, the captain of the football team, the best artist in school, the best musician in school are all
susceptible.

So what to do, especially if you are a parent? Well, first of all, learn the signs of possible abuse (there are dozens of sites on the Internet). And remember, if you think it’s true of one of your kids, it probably is.

Then you have to think about treatment options. Which is tough, because a lot of insurance companies only cover rehab treatment for five days or less. Which is not enough. But if you’re worried about money, you’re in denial. Remember what I said above -- jail or death.

Treatment in the Berkshires is limited. The Yellow Pages have a number of places to send people, mostly out of county. I have no recommendations -- except that if you want your kid to survive, pick one.

Derek Gentile covers news for The Eagle. He can be reached at dgentile@berkshireeagle.com. On Twitter, he’s at @DerekGentile.