Overdose death highlights growing heroin problem - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Overdose death highlights growing heroin problem

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

The overdose death of a reformed Chattanooga drug addict is putting the spotlight on an alarming increase in heroin usage in Tennessee and across the southeast.

Logan Whiteaker, 24, graduated from Hamilton County’s drug court on Monday. The judge said he was top of his class and sober for a year-and-a-half.

But Tuesday morning, the day after completing drug court, his step-father found him unresponsive and without a pulse.

First responders arrived and confirmed Whiteaker was dead. Red Bank police found a hypodermic needle and a small amount of suspected heroin nearby. The Hamilton County medical examiner will release an official cause of death pending toxicology results.

READ MORE | Man dies 24 hours after completing Hamilton County Drug Court program

"This is a problem that's rising very rapidly and we're going to have to get a good handle on it before it becomes a major issue in our community,” said Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol. "You can become addicted, physically addicted to the drug after one or two uses."

By all accounts, this was Whiteaker’s first time using since beginning drug court.

"Yes he's been clean for a year and a half but I don't think those demons ever go away. You have to fight those demons every day,” said Whiteaker’s mother Dawn Harrison.

Harrison stood her son’s side at drug court graduation Monday and told the court how thankful she was that she’ll no longer have to dread getting a phone call from police, informing her that her son had died.

But just hours after speaking with at the ceremony, she received the call she had dreaded for years. Her oldest son, Logan, was dead.

In 2014, 1,263 people died from drug overdoses in Tennessee, up more than 200 deaths from 2010.

The number of heroin-related arrests have skyrocketed in Tennessee over the last several years. In 2010, there were 179 people in Tennessee with a heroin-related arrest. By 2015, that number had shot up to 1,347 arrests.

"In some areas a 680 percent increase. In some areas that increase has been higher, as high as 4,000 percent,” said Tommy Farmer, TBI Special Agent-in-Charge.

Numbers show heroin use is especially increasing in metro counties like Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton.

Farmer said people will often buy heroin laced with someone even more dangerous, like Fentanyl, and will unknowingly increase their chance for a deadly overdose.

He also said while the heroin increase is worrisome, prescription drug abuse still affects more Tennesseans.

Farmer said drug courts like the one that got Whiteaker a job and 18 months of sobriety are effective to a point and Chief Christol agrees.

"No treatment program will do anything if you don't have a recipient that's willing to participate and willing to make the changes in their own lives,’ Christol said.

Judge Tom Greenholtz oversees the drug court program and said Whiteaker was a model participant but said that addiction doesn’t end upon graduation. He hopes his death will bring new awareness to addiction.

Drug court, he explained, is a “very intensive treatment and rehabilitation program for those addicted to drugs or alcohol” who are non-violent, multiple felons.

Greenholtz said over the last 10 years, there’s only been 7-percent recidivism rate with graduates.

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