BATON ROUGE - Medical professionals and law enforcement agencies say Baton Rouge has a heroin epidemic on its hands.
Five people died from heroin two years ago. That number went up to 35 deaths in 2013. So far this year, nine people have died from heroin but more cases are pending.
On Tuesday, multiple agencies met to discuss the rise in heroin abuse. Zach Knippenberg, a former drug addict, shared his story of abuse. Knippenberg started using drugs at 12 years old. His abuse peaked a few years later when he was 16.
"At that point it went down hill pretty rapidly. Withdrawals became an everyday thing with me. Most of my life was centered around selling, using and finding a way to procure better prices for dope," he said. "By the age of 20-21, I was pretty resolved by the fact that I wouldn't live past 25."
However, Knipperberg survived after he was forced into drug rehabilitation. He says he started with pills and marijuana, but he later ended up using heroin and other drugs that were easier to get.
East Baton Rouge Coroner "Beau" Clark says the success of the prescription drug monitoring program makes it harder for drug addicts to get pills from doctors. The users then resort to drugs like heroin.
"Number one we need to put the bad guys in jail, the drug dealers," said Clark. "That is separate in part from the folks that have addictive problems, the people that are using who are not the sellers. These are the people that need our help from the substance abuse perspective or maybe the mental health perspective."
Knippenberg says help from others ultimately saved his life.
"If you're at the point you're watching this and you've just kind of resigned this to being your life, give it a chance. If you can't do it on your own that's OK," he said. "There's no weakness in asking for help. I think it takes a lot of strength to ask for help."
Penalties for selling heroin recently increased. The minimum sentence for distribution is 10 years. The maximum sentence remained 50 years but increased to 99 years for a second conviction.
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