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Sheriff Says County is a Heroin Hub, Former Addict Speaks Out

PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. -- It grabs headlines when it causes the death of a famous person. But, the Pulaski County Sheriff says hundreds have overdosed and dozens have died after abusing heroin in his community.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. -- It grabs headlines when it causes the death of a famous person. But, the Pulaski County Sheriff says hundreds have overdosed and dozens have died after abusing heroin in his community.

The county is caught between heroin traffickers from across the nation, accessibility from a major interstate and users right here at home.

A recovering addict, and a mother of two young boys, has joined the fight and she's not alone. She says this battle will be won one life at a time.

“I don't want to say it's the best feeling in the world because of the dark place that it took me in my life,” says 33-year-old Stephanie Brown. “It makes everything go away, any pain, but it also takes away your happiness.”

Brown has spent the past seven years in a haze.

“I've never been married, but I was married to heroin,” says Brown. “It was the love of my life. It came first and foremost before my kids. I lost jobs, I lost everything.”

Brown says to the uninitiated the feeling heroin gives is hard to explain. But, sometimes actions speak louder than words.

“If you can lose everything that possibly means anything to you in your life to this one drug, that tells you how addictive it is right there,” says Brown. “Because you no longer care about any of those things.”

Getting heroin became the focus of Brown's life.

“It goes by tenths on the street here, or I guess, anywhere,” says Brown. “A tenth is $50. So I had a gram to almost two gram habit a day, which is close to $400. We would go to Lowes and steal copper, we would go to Wal-Mart and steal flat screen TVs to trade to drug dealers. My family, anything they had that was worth anything was gone. I would take from my children's piggy banks.”

Brown ended up in Pulaski County Drug Court.

“I had 17 felonies of stealing, possession, you name it, I had it,” says Brown. “I mean, and this was built up over a sum of five years...The ways and means to use on a daily basis.”

Brown used right before drug court and was selected that day to give a random urine sample. In the days that followed she scrambled, writing letters, devising plans, anything, she says, to stay out of prison.

It was standing in front of a judge in Pulaski County Drug Court that Brown temporarily lost her freedom. And she says that's what saved her life.

“And thank God that he decided to put me in prison and not just on house arrest because I would have never stopped,” says Brown.

In March 2012 Brown ended up in a Missouri Department of Corrections women's facility in Vandalia, sentenced to 120 days shock time. Brown's six-year-old son came to visit after two and a half months of Brown detoxing.

“I think it was the first family visit that I got in my 120,” says Brown. “My son, he said ‘you look better than I've ever seen you’ and that, I'll never forget that day because I didn't know, I didn't know how deep it had hurt him.”

Brown still carries her prison ID so she won't forget what she did to her life with heroin, what she looked like, and what she lost.

"Everything,” says Brown. “I mean there's not one thing that was left."

Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long says Brown's story isn't unique in his county.

“We've been tracking the heroin overdoses and also the heroin deaths here in Pulaski County for about five years,” says Long. “Over the last five years we've had over 500 overdoses and that includes some other drugs too, but primarily heroin. And also, we've had over 50 deaths with 13 of them being last year.”

The sheriff says heroin dealers are using this county with a population of 54,000 people as a hub of sorts.

“We seem to be the center of it right now,” says Long. “A central distribution part for this part of the state. First of all we have a military base. We also are right along Interstate 44. Right off of it. It's a main transportation artery through the United States. It's the number three highway in the United States where people transport drugs through.”

“Some of these major groups out of Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas have picked Pulaski County because of some of these factors to pick up a distribution point too,” says Long. “That's why we have state agencies working with us. We have task forces among the local law enforcement agencies and also the federal government, the FBI and a lot of the DEA agents in this area are doing work down here too.”

Long is trying to battle the dealers one life at a time; focusing on the recovery of the addict.

“So what we've decided is that law enforcement, just the 'enforcement part' that's not effective when it comes to addiction,” says Long. “We have to have a community effort so we decided to begin this Heroin Action Committee. We have doctors, we have judges, prosecutors, law enforcement from every agency in this part of the state almost. Counselors, representatives from medical clinics, individuals involved in groups housing."

Nearly two years sober, Brown is now an important part of this action committee.

“It's to keep giving back to a community that I took away from for so long,” says Brown.

Brown knows the battle addicts are facing.

“Most of them don't make it out and if that make it out they're spending the rest of their life in prison or they're six feet under the ground,” says Brown.

Brown says helping heroin addicts will take away the dealers customer base. She says while 50 deaths and 500 overdoses in five years is an eye-opener, no one deserves to die a statistic.

“We're saving lives, we're saving children, we're saving parents, cousins, sisters, brothers,” says Brown. “Yeah we're not just a number we're somebody because I wasn't always just and addict. I was my mom's little girl. And I was a pretty good kid.”

While visiting her dark past is difficult for Brown, she looks at her future and the future of her community with a steely resolve.

“I want to show my kids that the mother they knew for so long is not who they have any more,” says Brown. “This is a whole new mom. And I'm going to keep just getting better. But, I do know that if I can make it out of this, anybody can. Because I was, because I think I was pretty much, probably, as bad as you can get.”

The next meeting for the Heroin Action Committe is Monday, February 24 at 10 a.m. at the Pulaski County Courthouse.

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