Gone Too Soon: Heroin Deaths in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “I do one in the morning, then I do a shot midday, then I do one at night to sleep and that’s it.” 30-year-old Darryl is from Charlotte. He started using pain pills to get high. When pain pills got too expensive, Darryl switched to heroin. He says he’s been using heroin daily for four years. “I wanna stop. I tell myself every day, I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to stop,” says Darryl.

He says he spends up to $900 a week on heroin. He says, “You can call somebody in 15 to 20 minutes, it’s there. I mean, they’re getting to where they deliver to your doorstep if you want them to.”

Darryl gets text messages from his drug dealers every morning. He says, “Usually when I get some, I won’t do as much as I would normally do. I’ll do it just to try it, to test the quality of it.”

“Everybody that says that ends up overdosing, because you honestly don’t know what you’re getting,” says Jennifer Ellenburg. She has been an EMT in Rowan County for 14 years. She says more and more, she responds to heroin overdose calls. More and more, she sees her colleagues use Narcan on patients, an injection that can reverse the effects of heroin.

She says, “If it’s a heroin OD and you them with Narcan, they’re either gonna come up fighting or they’re gonna come up throwing up all over you. And they’re gonna be mad because you took their high away and the ones that have done that to me? I just look at them and say, ‘You can be as mad at me all you want, I just saved your life.’”

But she can’t save all of them. The last person Ellenburg tried to save from a heroin overdose, died. She says, “Gray. He was gray. And kinda like a rag doll.” She continues, “That’s not something family members need to see.” And, “This guy was so young and had so much potential. And it just makes you feel like you failed.”

Success, to many, means curbing heroin use – not ending it. But tracking down official records about heroin use in our area, and in North Carolina, is not easy and the numbers are not straight forward. In fact, the deeper we dug, the more we realized: no one really knows how many people are dying from this drug.

The North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch says in Mecklenburg County in 2014, the most recent year they’ve published data for, 32 people died from heroin. But records from the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office says in 2014, heroin played a role in the deaths of 44 people.

Those IVP records also indicate this: a heroin triangle in North Carolina. Death rates from the drug are increasingly higher inside the triangle. It takes shape with New Hanover, Durham and Buncombe counties.

And inside the triangle, the counties with the highest heroin death rates in the state: Gaston, Catawba, Iredell, Rowan, Davidson, Forsyth, Guilford, Wake, Brunswick, Cumberland, Union, Mecklenburg.

Remember, those are IVP branch numbers. Meck County Medical Examiner Office numbers are higher. It stands to reason the other county autopsy report numbers could be higher, too.

“When we got the autopsy, I didn’t understand it,” says Melissa Boyd. “(I) had to call because I didn’t know what it meant,” she says. Boyd got an ugly answer. “Too much heroin,” she says.

Boyd’s brother Joey went to a concert in Charlotte in 2009. “To this day, there’s still not one person that says they were with him that day.” And, “We can speculate. He was propped up against the building. We don’t know if they left him there.” She says, “For a drug to cause that to happen? It’s a life. Gone too soon.”

On Wednesday on WCCB News @ Ten, Boyd tells the rest of her brother’s story. Plus, more from Darryl. And, the red flags all families and friends need to look out for, and not ignore. Part two of our special report on heroin in the Charlotte-area is Wednesday at 10.


Leave a Comment