by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent
COLUMN: Heroin Has Changed Huntington's Culture
In the first week of September, a desperate Huntington woman made a plea on Facebook. It said, "My husband has been missing for eight days. He is on heroion very bad. I have made a police report and haven't heard anything. My son and I have been walking alleys to find him and have posted pictures of him. No one has seen him in two weeks. Please call if anyone knows or has seen him please."

Just days later, his lifeless body was found. Earlier in the week, another body was found in a boarded up house on Madison Avenue.

Just a few years ago, Huntington WV was the portrait of a quiet college town and the perfect place to raise a family. Now, sounds of sirens fill the air several times a day, discarded needles are scattered throughout the city, and dead bodies are occasionally hauled out of abandoned buildings.

Just three short years ago, Nick Verbitsy read articles about the then unpublicized drug epidemic on my website. Verbitsy, a producer for the PBS documentary series Front Line was working on a segment about oxycotin and insurance fraud. He came into Huntington and rode around with me for a couple of hours.

He called me the next day and said, "I rode around more after I left you. It's not what I was expecting. Huntington is a nice looking town. I was expecting to see people staggering around and needles in the street. I didn't see that."

Well, were just a little early. The epidemic has turned us from the quiet city into a culture where Netflix has filmed a documentary that debuts September 12. HBO's show Vice dubbed Huntington the heroin capital of America. CNN, The BBC, and CNBC are among the other networks that have filmed segments on Huntington"s drug problem.

This past week saw the City of Huntington close down the tent city homeless community on the banks of The Ohio River. The city said one of the main reasons for doing so was because of the drug needles and other paraphernalia that was littering the area and the concerned that the debris could lead to the spread of disease.

Earlier in the month I had interviewed Chris Vance, a homeless man who was living in the tent community. Vance, who was arrested on old warrants when the police was closing down the community, said, "The epidemic is hurting the tent city because addicts are coming to the river to do drugs and are stealing stuff from the camps."

Heroin's effect on Huntington's culture can be seen in other ways. With September being National Recovery Month, there are no less than four major anti-drug rallies. Recovery Point had a rally September 8. Recovery 4 Change will hold a rally at five o'clock at David Harris Riverfront Park on Friday September 15. The Facebook group The Hero In You will have a concert and rally at Virginia Pointe on Saturday September 16. Another rally is planned for September 29 at Virginia Point with proceeds going to Heroin Hearse and their planned recovery house Palms.

One of the performers at the Hero in You Rally is Ducky Smith. Ducky Smith moved away from Huntington ten years ago....but Huntington never left his soul. A decade later, the singer/songwriter is raising awareness to the drug epidemic in his hometown and dealing with his pain by writing and singing about the epidemic plaguing Huntington.

Ducky reflects, " I have fond memories of all the people I have known from school, growing up many have passed due to drugs. As a former addict I've done everything just about but heroin. These people are easy souls for Satan's taking. It makes me appreciate all the time I got to spend with them and gave me a stronger passion for people. Pain is real and sometimes nothing."

It has been rumored that a super rehab is coming to the Prichard Building in Downtown Huntington. This would join Recovery Point, Life House, Lily's Place and other rehab places in fighting the epidemic. These places form a culture of recovery. With people in the community coming together to fight the epidemic, the culture of recovery can overcome the drug culture that has engulfed Huntington. Huntington can's a matter of changing the culture to one that is conducive to recovery.