By Robbie Owens

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS11) – The nation’s heroin epidemic is back—and it’s hitting the nation’s middle class hard.

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That’s the sobering warning from the Centers for Disease Control. The nation’s health watchdog agency says deaths have quadrupled during the past decade and abuse is up across demographic lines.

“Addiction doesn’t have a race, addiction doesn’t have a color,” says Mariela Torres, “it doesn’t matter who you are—rich or poor—it’ll happen to anyone.”

Torres should know. The petite, pretty, 23-year-old looks far younger than her years—and she’s far wiser as well. She survived a heroin epidemic a decade ago that claimed many North Texas teens.

“We were all young and I was trying to do it because I wanted to try to fit in and look cool,” says Torres. After a while, she says that ‘high’ was elusive. “I wasn’t even feeling high, I was just using it so I wouldn’t feel sick.”

She kicked. But, it wasn’t easy.

“The minute I knew I wasn’t gonna get my fix, I would start to ache,” recalls Torres, now 9 years clean. “My body would ache, throwing up, headache, feeling sick like I had flu like symptoms. I had to keep using to feel normal. So I wouldn’t feel sick.”

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According to the CDC, the latest epidemic reflects a 60% increase in heroin use among Americans earning $50,000 or more, when compared to numbers from 2002-2004. During that same time span, use among women doubled.

“If you get the heroin in pill form from your doctor, people think that’s okay,” says Jack Feinberg, LMHC, CAP, LCDC. Feinberg is the Vice President and Clinical Director of Phoenix House, a nationwide source for substance abuse treatment. The Dallas based Feinberg says that he, too, agrees that rampant abuse of prescription pain killers fuels the heroin epidemic.

“When you multiply that by how cheap the heroin is here,” says Feinberg, “that’s when it becomes deadly serious.

A gram of heroin is often less than a single pill of OxyContin. We’ve never seen an epidemic like this before and it’s going to last a very long time.”

Other recovering addicts also say the trip from prescription pain killers to the corner for heroin is very short—and anyone taking the powerful pain killers should be warned of the danger of addiction.

Meanwhile, Torres enrolled in college and is working on her license to become a substance abuse counselor.

“That’s what I want to do,” says Torres, “I want to help others. It feels good. I’m actually proud of myself and what I’ve accomplished… my family’s pretty proud of me, of what I am today.”

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