OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman of an apparent heroin overdose highlights a disturbing trend nationwide: the powerful opiate is seeing resurgence in segments of society where it once was rare.
Federal drug data shows rates of heroin dependence doubling nationally in the decade between 2002 and 2012, and interviews with local drug intervention experts indicate rates of use, and overdoses, rising in the Midwest as well.
"We've had quite a few heroin overdoses in the last, oh I'd say four or five months," said Tama Sawyer, the managing director of the University of Kansas Hospital's Poison Control Center. "You wouldn't think heroin would show up in Kansas, or the Kansas City area. It seems like those are east coast and west coast problems, but they're not."
Indeed, anti-drug organization first call counts 187 deadly heroin overdoses in Missouri in 2013, 14 of those in Kansas City alone. Their numbers could not be independently verified.
Sawyer believes many heroin users transition to it from other opiate drugs, like prescription painkillers.
Heroin provides a similar, more powerful high, for a lower cost. Sawyer said stereotypes of heroin users are simply inaccurate.
"It crosses every financial border," Sawyer explained. "The poor can get ahold of it. The middle income people can get ahold of it, and the rich use it quite frequently."
One of those seemingly unlikely heroin users was Alan Funk. An Air Force veteran and married father of three, Funk became addicted to painkillers after a back surgery a decade ago. Soon he added snorting heroin to his regular cocktail of opiate drugs and alcohol, and found himself hopelessly addicted to the lot.
"There's an underlying condition, and the heroin and the drugs and everything else is a symptom of the underlying problem," Funk said. "We just want to get messed up."
Hitting rock bottom after a fight with his wife, who was also in the grip of powerful drugs, Funk sought professional help and fought through bitter withdrawals to sober up and change his life.
"I think one of the things that keeps me sober is I'm through it now," Funk, now two years sober, said of his withdrawals. "I don't ever want to go through that again."