ATLANTA - In the Bluff, it's a daily heroin-filled fight between life and death. Now, admitted users and sellers are taking on a different role: life savers.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne got exclusive video inside a drug house in the Bluff, southwest Atlanta's most notorious heroin highway. In the video, a woman seated in a chair overdosed on heroin. A group of people stood around her, slapping her, shaking her and trying to keep her alive.
"There we go. Come on, come on, fight for it, baby. Fight for it," you can hear one of them say.
While gathering information for this story, Winne saw a fire truck racing to a nearby street corner. A witness told him he found a man lying in the backseat of a car. Winne confirmed the man later died with preliminary indication of opiates in his system.
With cooperation from the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office, Winne learned Fulton County has gone from zero heroin deaths in 2006 to 31 in 2013, then doubled to 60 in 2014. Click to see chart.
This map shows the Fulton County deaths in 2014 by zip code:
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The number does not include deaths in surrounding metro Atlanta counties whose residents flock to the Bluff to feed their heroin craving.
Even allowing for improvements in testing, Winne says the increase is startling.
The lifeless woman seen on the video survived. It's because of life-saving help from an unlikely source - a man who acknowledges he has sold drugs to support his own habit.
"We always send a prayer. Prayer helps us to be guided to save these victims," the man told Winne.
He gave the woman a shot of Narcan, or naloxone hydrochloride. The drug reverses opioid overdoses. The man told Winne he learned how to administer Narcan in the Bluff.
Community group gets involved
"We are up to about 80 (overdose) reversals," Bennett said. "Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 965. It allows us, among other people, to be able to distribute these kits."
Narcan is not a guarantee that a user can shoot drugs and survive. Fulton County Medical Examiner Randy Hanzlick told Winne he knows of at least a dozen deaths where naloxone hydrochloride turned up in the system of heroin or opiate users.
Hanzlick said the naloxone hydrochloride apparently came from unsuccessful rescue efforts by emergency responders.
One man Winne spoke with in the Bluff suggested he used Narcan to save 11 fellow users.
At the time of the interview, he told Winne he was “dope sick” himself, referring to the misery heroin addicts regularly experience between fixes. Winne asked why he felt the need to save people if they were just going to use again.
"We bring them back, because they are still human," he replied.
Heroin in the suburbs
Winne talked to Aaron, a young man from Alpharetta, who was brought back from the dead when someone gave him Narcan. Aaron went from a life of privilege to a life shackled by heroin addiction.
"That drug saved my life," Aaron said. "Heroin addiction is evil. It takes everything from you. It takes your soul."
His friend Simon spoke candidly to Winne about his drug use.
“As far as coming back, I mean, you know it’s part of the cycle. It’s part of the vicious cycle of, you know, you fall off the horse you get back on and keep riding,” Simon said.
“Different kind of horse?” asked Winne.
“Right, the white horse.”