The face of heroin addiction at IUP

A Civic Project story

Former Indiana University of Pennsylvania freshman Kira Jadann Marie Heitzer, March 2016. Photo by Kira Heitzer.

Former Indiana University of Pennsylvania freshman Kira Jadann Marie Heitzer, March 2016. Photo by Kira Heitzer.

By Victoria Moran

INDIANA— Kira Jadann Marie Heitzer was 18 and a first-year freshman archaeology/anthropology major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania when she dropped out of school two months into the fall 2016 semester.

Heitzer, from Somerset, Pa., had been struggling with drug use and heroin addiction since her sophomore year of high school. After attending rehab for two months in 2014, Heitzer said she was using only on occasion.

Until she arrived at IUP.

“On one of my first nights here, I met a kid who sold heroin, and he sold it for a hell of a lot cheaper than what I could ever get it for back home,” Heitzer said in a phone interview on Nov. 10. “Being an addict, it’s really hard to say no. After that encounter, it became an everyday thing until I dropped out and left Indiana County.”


HEITZER IS AMONG a growing number of people who battle heroin addiction in Indiana County and in Pennsylvania.

Statewide, heroin was the most common drug found in toxicology reports in 2015, according to an analysis of drug-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania prepared by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s Philadelphia Field Division. Heroin appeared in nearly 55 percent of fatal overdoses.

In Indiana County, drug-related overdose deaths rose to 51 in early December 2016 from 11 in 2008, a nearly five-fold increase, according to OverdoseFreePA, a website created by a Program Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Pittsburgh. Overdose data is compiled on-site by officials in Pennsylvania counties, including Indiana County.

Coroner Jerry Overman Jr. updates the Indiana County data.

“These dealers that are selling this stuff have such a disregard for human life,” Overman said in a Dec. 1 phone interview. “They are selling fentanyl, thinking it’s heroin. And all of these people are dying.”

In Indiana County, heroin overdoses contributed to at least 47 (or 30 percent) of the 155  total documented overdose deaths between 2008 and December 2016. These numbers and percentages do not include 17 recent deaths awaiting toxicology results.

Within that same period, neighboring Armstrong County reported 106 overdoses, 36 (or 34 percent) of which were heroin-related, according to data provided by Armstrong County Coroner Bryan Myers.


INDIANA UNIVERSITY of Pennsylvania’s health center sees few heroin users, and it has no help for those who seek assistance for such problems.

“Very few students come to the health center due to heroin use — probably two to three per semester at most,” wrote David M. Myers, a psychologist at the IUP Counseling Center, in a Nov. 9 e-mail. “We then refer students to The Open Door. Heroin addiction is outside the scope of our services, since people using opiates need to have medical management and intensive therapy.”


HEITZER TRIED the intensive approach, she said. And she acknowledged a need for rehab.

“Not a day goes by where I don’t think about doing dope,” Heitzer said in a phone interview Dec. 5. “But I realize that I just can’t do it.”

But Heitzer said she won’t return to intensive rehab because she’s been there, done that and, “I know everything there is to know.”

She has chosen a different route.

“I need to be around people who will watch out for me, like my mom and boyfriend,” she said. “They are awesome.”

Her experience provides a perspective that others need to heed, she advised. Since leaving IUP and moving back home, Heitzer said she is clean, working as a waitress, saving money and planning to return to school.

“When people think of heroin, they think of the homeless guy living under the bridge,” Heitzer said. “But that isn’t the case. Addiction doesn’t know skin color, or how much money you have, or what kind of family you come from. The reality in today’s world is that it can affect anyone.”

Victoria Moran, a junior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh.


Sidebar: Overdose deaths, all drugs, Indiana County, Pa., 2008-2016

Year                   Total deaths

2009                          7
2010                          6
2011                         15
2012                         15
2013                          7
2014                          9
2015                         34
2016 (thru 12/7)    51

TOTAL                    155

— Source: OverdoseFreePA, a website created by the Program Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Pittsburgh.


Sidebar: To get involved, to get help

For more information about this story, or to help address community issues reported in this story, contact the following sources:

The Counseling Center (IUP)
Dr. David M. Myers
Psychologist/Substance Use and Abuse Coordinator
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Center for Health and Well Being
Suites on Maple East G-31
901 Maple Street
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-2621

University Police
Kevin Thelen
Director of Public Safety and University Police
University Towers
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
850 Maple St.
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724 357-2104

Indiana Borough Police Department
William C. Sutton
80 North Eighth St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724 349-2121
Armstrong-Indiana Drug and Alcohol Commission
Kami Anderson
Executive Director
10829 US Route 422
PO Box 238
Shelocta, PA 15774
Phone: 724-354-2746

The Open Door
Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Center
334 Philadelphia Street
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724-465-2605

Conewago Indiana
Substance Abuse Treatment Services
2274 Warren Rd.
Indiana, PA 15701
Phone: 724-471-3037

National Drug Abuse Hotline
24 hours a day
Phone: 1-888-744-0069

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