I have been to some forlorn and desperate corners of America. Communities where poverty has trapped a generation; areas where gun violence and fear is rampant; towns blighted by racism and intolerance.But the drug dens and crack houses of Camden in New Jersey are perhaps the saddest, most wretched places of all.
Recently, I watched Lauren Severson, a smart, sensitive 23-year old, clamber into a derelict building. Sitting on a upturned crate, she quickly wrapped an improvised tourniquet around her wrist. A vein was now easily visible.
She pushed the needle in, with a sigh that reflected a deep, biological need.
The cheap heroin that she had purchased just minutes earlier was satisfying her craving. It was buying her time - but only a few hours, until she would need her next fix.
Lauren quietly wept. Speaking with me, she described heroin as the drug that robbed her of every vestige of self-respect.
But she is not exceptional. In many ways, she is exceptionally ordinary.Heroin is America's secret curse, a hidden epidemic that is silently rampaging through suburban and middle-class America.
Few families want to acknowledge their struggle with opiates, so it is significantly under-reported.
The trajectory is truly frightening. A generation of Americans became addicted to prescription pain killers. But then the price of medicines climbed and many struggled to afford them.
Something had to fill the void. Cheap heroin flooding in from Mexico met the demand.
Heroin fatalities have tripled in the last three years. Over 8,000 Americans are now dying every year from heroin overdoses.
It began in the urban areas, but then the heroin moved into suburban and rural America. Now it is everywhere.
Cheap, accessible, deadly.
I met mothers so utterly defeated by the struggle to help their addicted children that they wished their son or daughter was dead. They could not endure the heartbreak anymore.
This is not an uplifting story. There is no happy ending. Addiction is a life-long struggle.
But as I have witnessed, never has it been more important for parents and children to be aware of the horrifying flow of the opiate that threatens every family in the land.
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