SIKESTON, MO (KFVS) - There's a deadly growing problem that is hitting every kind of family in southeast Missouri: heroin addiction.
Heroin is blamed for 500 deaths among young people in the St. Louis area over the past two years, and authorities say the drug is now trying to take hold in our area.
Monday the Southeast Missouri Drug Free Communities Coalition, Mission Missouri, Educators, and law enforcement met in Sikeston to discuss ways to raise awareness and get in front of the problem before it stems out of control.
"I was part of the heroin epidemic that came out of the Washington D.C. area and into the suburbs and now what scares me is I see the same thing coming out of St. Louis and into this area," said Paul Bell.
Bell says he came to Mission Missouri to get sober. He says he's been sober two years now thanks to the programs at Mission Missouri.
"Most of the people that were with me on my journey are dead," said Bell.
He says he spent 40 years under the power of addiction and 10 of those years included intense dependence on heroin.
"When you are under the influence of the drug everything is beautiful," said Bell. "Somebody can punch you in the face and you're ok with it."
Bell spends a lot of his time now volunteering to raise awareness and help others recover. He was among those who met Monday at the First United Methodist Church in Sikeston.
"It's truly an epidemic," said Dan Duncan.
Duncan, of the National Coalition on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse has been on the front lines of the problem in St. Louis where so many have died.
"It's moving into more rural communities," said Duncan.
He says now more users are young people of the upper middle class. The addiction actually usually starts at your medicine cabinet.
"Almost 100 percent of the youth on heroin started with prescription pain killers," said Duncan. "And before that it's marijuana."
He says today's heroin is cheap, but just as deadly.
"We are finding most people need to go through treatment four or five times," said Duncan. "That's if they make it back to treatment, many die."
"Many of the parents who have lost children have no idea their child was ever involved with heroin," said Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter. "We are seeing more of it and we want to get ahead of the problem."
Walter says it's a terrible cycle that hits every family. He says drugs like heroin contribute to crime.
"We fight a growing number of burglaries," said Walter. "Many times that's because people are trying to get money to feed their habit."
As for Paul Bell, he says he's proof you can escape the hold of heroin. He's now going to Southeast Missouri State University to become a teacher at age 57.
"I'm the oldest kid in the class," laughed Bell.
He says he's dedicating his life to staying sober, and helping others.
"It's a miracle of God that I survived this," said Bell. "I think he let me survive because he knew I would appreciate it."