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DAY BY DAY: Heroin in Hudson - who knew?

Apparently a lot of us, especially our young people.

I have covered a lot of stories in our community over the past 23 years as a reporter with the Star-Observer but I never thought I would be writing about heroin and the devastation it brings.

Hudson police estimate that as many as seven people, most of them under the age of 25, have died of heroin overdoses in the last two years, as many as a dozen or more across St. Croix County. The HPD detective investigating heroin here, a man not given to exaggeration, calls what is happening in Hudson an "epidemic" and he fears there will be more addictions and deaths over this summer.

There are a growing number of Hudson families who agree with him, so much so that they are stepping up to tell their stories. Over the past few months I have met with the parents of five young people who have become addicted to this drug. Three of their children are working hard every day in recovery. Tragically, two other families are learning how to live without their beloved children following fatal overdoses. All of them have decided that going public with their experiences is how they want to go, how they want to fight what is happening here.

I have talked with three young men in the early stages of recovery. They candidly describe their descent into "heroin hell." While marijuana and alcohol were both things they used, the gateway to heroin seems to be prescription painkillers, opiate-based drugs that were either prescribed for them to treat pain from a sports or other injury or were in their home medicine cabinets for another family member or from friends who used them "recreationally."

But it is a very quick trip from recreation to addiction. The journey can take the children who played who played hockey and baseball and all the regular kid stuff down a road that turns them into liars, thieves, people who act without conscience and care only about getting the drugs they so desperately crave.

As for their parents, the nightmare that is heroin affects everyone in a family. It replaces a child they love with a stranger who talks and behaves in a way they don't understand, someone who abuses their trust, manipulates them and strikes out at them. But through it all, they cannot turn their backs on this child of theirs who they love unconditionally. The idea of "tough love" and "enabling" are concepts they understand but when they get the call in the middle of the night asking for help one more time, what do you do? For most of us, we'd go.

One mother said she lost her daughter the day she first stuck a needle in her arm. That needle cost her daughter her life. It has been just a few months since Alysa Ivy died but her mother, Karen Hale, has chosen to tell her family's story to anyone who will listen and to those who won't listen, she will roar if she has too. She can't get her daughter back but by telling her story, she honors her memory. Regardless of what killed Aylsa, she was not a bad person; she just made a very bad decision when she got involved with heroin.

None of the kids I've talked with or the kids who we have lost were bad kids. All of the parents I've met are good people and good parents who were doing what they were supposed to do. Heroin just changed all the rules.

We are a community of good parents raising good children with promising futures in what we have always thought is a safe place. The families living with this evil are just like us. They are us and what happened to them can happen to us.

These families have done a very brave thing going public with their stories. Most of them will be participating in a community forum on July 18 at First Presbyterian Church. Their idea is to take Hudson's heroin problem out of the shadows and to educate the community about the real danger it poses here.

I usually take a lighter tone in this space and I look forward to doing that again soon but for now, this takes priority. It is time to listen, learn and then get involved.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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