COMMUNITY CRISIS: How drug addiction leads to crime


JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS) — We’ve talked about how the heroin epidemic impacts addicts and police.

But from big crimes to petty thefts, the heroin problem is dripping down to everyday people.

It all started when he was 17 years old, popping pills for a thrill.

“Painkillers like Vicodin, and then the hardcore painkillers like OxyContin,” said Aaron Emerson, a recovering addict from Mason.

Emerson says at the time, taking these opioids caused a lot of his teenage friends in Mason to look for something harder, cheaper, and easier to find.

“I don’t think anyone knew that when they first popped a Vicodin just to have fun in school that 3 or 4 years later they were going to be a heroin addict on the street. It just progresses so fast,” Emerson said.

The 25-year-old says his heroin addiction lead him into a life of crime.

“After even just a few weeks of using heroin, I was stealing everyday just to support my habit because I didn’t have a job.  Stuff from stores or around the house, and taking it into pawn shops and stuff like that,” Emerson said.

He was caught multiple times and spent a total of four years in jail.

“I did a year in jail twice and almost a year in juvenile. And other times than that there were just a few times here and there,” Emerson said.

Law enforcement in Jackson County has noticed a big connection between crime and these drugs since the problem picked up.

37-year-old Jesse Irving recently pleaded guilty to several felonies.

Around Christmas last year, Irving broke into a home in Blackman Township and demanded money.

But he ended up getting shot by the homeowner and stole the man’s truck to get away.

Irving’s attorney says his client did this in the grips of a heroin addiction.

Local pharmacists were shaken up in January, as an armed man robbed three pharmacies in Jackson.

The suspect got away with cash and power prescription narcotics before getting caught by police.

Jackson County Sheriff Steve Rand says while both of these drug crimes made headlines, the majority do not.

His deputies are responding to more property crimes as suspected addicts steal from garages and sheds.

“Those spiked a few years ago and those have remained at a very high level. People are stealing and pawning and trading in lawn equipment, jewelry, precious metals, and anything they can get their hands on,” Sheriff Rand said.

The sheriff says heroin’s impact on the community is widespread and no one is immune.

“I’d say to the average person that even if you think you don’t know somebody, you probably do, you just don’t know they’re addicted to this,” Sheriff Rand said.

He says if you know of a situation where someone is using or selling these drugs, report it to authorities so you don’t become a victim.

“That means giving us tips, informing the police, informing law enforcement of drug activity in your neighborhood,” Sheriff Rand said.

Emerson is doing much better now after quitting heroin four years ago.

He’s going to college, getting support from family, and realizes what’s at stake.

“It’s really hard doing this. But I know I have to. If I go back to heroin, or keep doing what I am doing I am going to eventually die or go back to jail,” Emerson said.  “You can be happy in sobriety. I never thought it would be possible.”

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