DEADLY HEIGHTS: The threat of heroin in Livingston (part 1)

By Terrapinzflyer · Oct 12, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer

    DEADLY HEIGHTS: The threat of heroin in Livingston (part 1)

    Law enforcement officials say they are fighting a rapid increase — what they've called a possible epidemic — of heroin use and overdoses in Livingston County.

    At least 10 people have died in the county this year because of drug overdoses, according to statistics provided by seven of the county's nine law enforcement agencies.

    Meanwhile, a multijurisdictional investigation could result in criminal charges against 30 or more people throughout southeastern Michigan for delivering or manufacturing heroin, cocaine and marijuana, Hamburg Township Police Chief Steve Luciano confirmed.

    Details are expected to be revealed in a news conference at the Hamburg Township Police Department this week.

    However, the Daily Press & Argus has learned that more than a dozen people — ranging in age from 18 to 51, and living throughout Livingston County — have been charged in District Court in Howell with drug offenses as a result of the investigation. Of that number, about half had been arraigned as of Thursday, while the rest had warrants for their arrest, according to court records.

    "You can't believe the shock and despair on a parent's face when you tell them their kid has overdosed on heroin," Luciano said. "The return of heroin is real; it's dangerous and everyone needs to be aware of it. ... We saw such an increase, we wanted to find the source."

    The original source can be found in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, an undercover drug officer said. It came to the United States via New York, and then filtered into Detroit, where it found its way to Livingston County residents.

    "The kilos come in from overseas," said the undercover officer, whom the Daily Press & Argus is not identifying due to the nature of his work.

    The agent said Chicago is the source city for the cocaine supply in Livingston County.

    The 10 overdose deaths this year in Livingston County is nearly double the half-dozen recorded as recently as 2006.

    The increased heroin use in drug-related incidents and overdoses led Hamburg Township police to team with the Drug Enforcement Administration's Detroit office and Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team to open what it dubbed a "priority-target case," which identified who was arrested in the past week.

    Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug that the U.S. Department of Justice said is "the most abused and the most rapidly acting of all opiates."
    Heroin, which is a powder that ranges in color from off-white to brownish, is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from certain varieties of poppy plants.

    Heroin can be injected, smoked, sniffed or snorted.

    Local police said they knew of one woman who admitted that she injected heroin into her vaginal area because it would hide the needle marks.

    Detective 1st Lt. Monica Yesh of the Michigan State Police said injection is the most effective way to administer heroin, but undercover drug officers are also finding local residents who consume "bindles" of heroin.

    A bindle is about 1 gram and comes in a folded piece of paper about the size of a lottery ticket, an undercover agent said.

    Intravenous users typically experience the rush within seven seconds to eight seconds after injection, while intramuscular injection produces a slower onset of the euphoric feeling, taking up to eight minutes, according to Justice Department information.

    When heroin is sniffed or smoked, the peak effects of the drug are usually felt within 10-15 minutes, the Justice Department reported.

    Long-term effects are collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulite, and liver disease. Pulmonary complications also can result.

    One of the most significant effects of heroin use is addiction.

    Yesh, who also serves as LAWNET supervisor, said drug addicts can spend their lives trying to re-create the intense effect they had the first time they got high.

    "They want to achieve that initial high, but their brain can't achieve it again because they've killed brain cells," she said. "They spend the rest of their lives doing drugs, trying to achieve that initial high again."

    The Heroin User
    Heroin has been around for decades, and was known in the 1960s and 1970s as the drug favored by "hard-core users," but narcotics officers said the illegal drug is making a comeback because it is cheaper and readily available.

    The "typical" user cannot be defined by any specific category. He or she is the young and old; the unemployed and the employed; as well as professionals, such as teachers, engineers and doctors.

    "It is quickly becoming the drug of choice among those who use illegal substances," Luciano said. "It used to be known as a predominately street addict's drug, or inner-city-type drug, but there's a significant increase of usage among young adults."

    In Livingston County in the last five years, there have been more than three dozen deaths attributed to illegal drugs, many of them heroin-related, according to statistics provided by seven of the county's local police departments. The dead include men and women who ranged in age from 19 to 55, and who lived throughout Livingston County communities.

    Among the dead were Paul Chester, 55, and Ryann Anderson, 25, both of whom were found dead in February and November, respectively, at the same home in Hamburg Township.

    Those who survived an overdose included a 14-year-old Howell-area girl, whom police said intentionally consumed between 10 and 16 Coricidin pills in April; and two 19-year-old Howell-area men who used heroin in separate incidents in July and August.

    The Supply
    Yesh said heroin cannot be purchased on the street corner in Livingston County as it can in some Detroit neighborhoods, but it is still readily available.

    "You have to know someone to purchase it," she explained.
    While the Detroit supply can be traced to Afghanistan, the Justice Department reported that South America and Mexico supply most of the illicit heroin marketed in the United States.

    The Taliban briefly banned poppy cultivation in 2000 in an effort to gain U.S. diplomatic recognition and aid, according to national news reports. Afghanistan provides more than 90 percent of the world's heroin, according to news reports.

    When the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, poppies were grown on about 18,800 ares. Under the American occupation that followed the defeat of the Taliban, poppy cultivation spread to every province and overall production increased — by 60 percent in 2006, according to a story in The New Yorker magazine.

    The New Heroin
    Law enforcement officials said the heroin today is "more pure" than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

    Decades ago, an abuser could expect to receive a mixture that was 14 percent heroin, which was mixed with sugar, starch or another cutting agent.

    In 2006, heroin was being mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate about 80 percent stronger than morphine, which was linked to nearly 200 deaths in the Detroit area.

    Today, the ratio is about 50 percent heroin and 50 percent cutting agent.
    "It's not being cut as much, so it's much stronger," Luciano said. "There's no way to tell when you buy a packet or bindle of heroin how pure it is.

    "They are thinking they are going to get high, and friends are finding them dead," the chief said.


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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    DEADLY HEIGHTS: Woman's spiral started at 11 (part 2)

    Shauna Mikula experimented with marijuana at age 11. At age 16, she tried heroin to test whether it was as addictive as a DARE officer proclaimed

    Four years later, the 20-year-old Brighton woman was dead due to "drug intoxication" that included heroin.

    "She thought she could try it once and be done with it," her mother, Madonna Mikula of Brighton, said. "She was addicted. She couldn't stop. ... She wanted to be an actress. She was a songwriter and a musician. She could write stories."

    Shauna Mikula's father, Raymond Mikula, said, "It's hard to understand why she chose drugs. That's a burden I have to carry until I finally die.

    "Despite all the bad things, there was still a lot of good in her, but all the hope got dashed when she died," the St. Johns man added.

    Law enforcement officers said they've seen an increase in heroin overdoses in Livingston County, and Shauna Mikula is one example of the youths getting addicted to the drug.

    Madonna Mikula said her daughter came into this world Aug. 13, 1985, "kicking and screaming."

    As a child, Shauna Mikula was charismatic, often talking her way out of any situation, her mother said.

    "She was sassy and very willful," Madonna Mikula said. "She knew 'no,' and she used it as much as possible."

    As she grew into her teen years, Shauna Mikula became a popular student among her peers, but when her family relocated to the Howell area, she found that she didn't fit in at school.

    "The in-crowd didn't know she was cool. She fell into the crowd that was known as troublemakers," Madonna Mikula said. "They accepted her and thought she was cool."

    Trouble Meant Drugs

    Shauna Mikula, whose parents had since divorced, began smoking marijuana at age 11, and she soon experimented with other drugs, such as acid.

    Her mother said Shauna Mikula tried Ecstasy, cocaine and mushrooms, as well as a variety of pills commonly called "uppers" and "downers."

    By age 12, Shauna Mikula had gotten kicked out of school and was reassigned to an alternative school. She also got into trouble with the law by destroying property. Madonna Mikula said she is still paying fines involved with her daughter's malicious destruction of property.

    Raymond Mikula said Shauna Mikula was one of a group of friends who had set the Howell High School Fieldhouse on fire. He thought she did it when she was "high.

    Her mother took Shauna Mikula to see many counselors, but Shauna Mikula cried, "You can't help me."

    Shauna Mikula spent time at three boot camps followed by five juvenile facilities and eventually a girl's training school, which her mother described as "basically a jail with a school. Locks and all."

    While there, Shauna Mikula had a friend who died from a heroin overdose, which affected her greatly, her mother said.

    Shauna Mikula left the training school at age 16 — and although her life was stable, she fell back in with a bad crowd.

    She ran away from home, heading to Portland, Ore. When she returned after about a month, her mother learned that Shauna Mikula was dating an older man who had a criminal history of thefts.

    Soon after, Madonna Mikula received a whispered telephone call.

    "Shauna is using heroin, and she needs help," the voice said.

    "I confronted her," Madonna Mikula said. "She admitted it. She told me she went to a DARE class and didn't believe the officer when he said heroin is addicting. She wanted to try it to test that."

    Madonna Mikula estimated that within three months of Shauna Mikula trying heroin, she contracted hepatitis C from a dirty needle.

    The Merry-Go-Round

    Shauna Mikula spent the next few years of her life getting high, going to rehab, getting high and going to rehab.

    At one point, she began stripping — at a boyfriend's encouragement — to earn what she told her mother was "easy money" for drugs.

    "They would go to Detroit for the drugs," Madonna Mikula said. "If you drive there, you will see the dealers. They all have that same hollow-eyed look."

    At 19, Shauna Mikula lived drug-free briefly in Florida with her boyfriend and his parents, but she was heartbroken when the parents sent her back to Michigan because they were struggling to help their drug-addicted son.

    Madonna Mikula said when her daughter returned to Michigan, Shauna Mikula went back to drugs to self-medicate her broken heart.

    "I told her, 'If you keep this up, you're not going to make it to 25,' " Raymond Mikula said. "She said, 'I love taking drugs.' The hardest part was not being able to do anything about it."

    Attempt For Help

    Madonna Mikula thought her daughter was finally drug-free in 2005 until she caught Shauna Mikula "shooting up."

    Madonna Mikula said Shauna Mikula struck her, so she called 911 to report an incident of domestic violence.

    "I thought if she was in jail, she can't get drugs; she could get clean," Madonna Mikula said.

    Shauna Mikula caught a staph infection while in jail in July 2005. Her father believes the staph infection contributed to her death.

    Following her one-week stay in the hospital, Shauna Mikula appeared ready to turn her life around.

    In August 2005, her father had given her a car for her birthday. She had been accepted to a local community college.

    Less than two weeks later, on Aug. 24, 2005, Shauna Mikula went out with friends while Madonna Mikula and a male friend went to a concert.

    Around midnight, Madonna Mikula received a telephone call.

    "Shauna has stopped breathing; the ambulance is here," a friend of her daughter's said.

    Raymond Mikula said he had been told his daughter and her friend had driven to Detroit to get heroin that evening, and had returned to the friend's Hamburg Township home.

    While en route to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Madonna Mikula began to think about what she would say to her daughter.

    However, a doctor told her that Shauna Mikula was "gone." Madonna Mikula wondered to which hospital her daughter had been transferred.

    "She is dead," the doctor clarified to her.

    "I wanted to die," Madonna Mikula said. "How could I go on?"

    Moving Forward

    Madonna Mikula's grief was unbearable at first, but slowly she learned to live with it.

    She created a Facebook page on which she writes about her daughter and keeps in contact with some of her daughter's friends — one of whom was an addict, but is now married and drug-free.

    "She said what happened to Shauna helped her turn her life around," Madonna Mikula said about the friend.

    Madonna also has created a group list called Family and Friends of Addicts on Yahoo! so she and others can find support.

    She tells people about the "3 Cs" — "You didn't cause it; you can't cure it; and you can't control it" — as a way to help families struggling with a loved one who is addicted to heroin or died of an overdose.

    Madonna Mikula encourages parents and friends to educate themselves on the signs of addiction — so they can spot when someone needs help.

    "It will be with me forever," she said about her daughter's addiction and death. "The stress of your child being an addict is unbearable. You try and try to help them, but nothing you do seems to help.

    "She wasn't a bad person; she was an addict," Madonna Mikula added. "She had a winning way about her."

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