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More Young People Using Heroin In Md. Suburbs

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Heroin in the suburbs. Once known as a city addiction, its use is skyrocketing over the county line. WJZ investigates the dramatic surge in teenage addictions.

Mary Bubala shares the story of one young girl who snorted heroin once and lost the life she knew.

If you think you know what a heroin addict looks like, look again. There is a new face of heroin, mostly young and living in the suburbs. Faces like 22-year-old Nicole Duda, of Frederick; 20-year-old Towson University student Abe Cahan; 18-year-old Elliott Mason, of Harford County; and from Carroll County, 15-year-old Liam O'Hara and 16-year-old Scott Payne--all dead after overdosing on heroin.

Lea Edgecomb tried heroin just once.

"I think I knew immediately something was wrong," she said.

The Montgomery County high school honor student went into cardiac arrest.

"Next thing you know," Edgecomb said. "I am unconscious."

She was in a coma. She suffered brain damage and was paralyzed from the neck down.

"I'm trapped in my body at 17 years old," she said.

Her case is not an isolated example. Heroin use in Maryland suburbs is exploding.

In Dorchester County, heroin use is up nearly 400 percent. In Harford County, it's more than 100 percent. Frederick County is up nearly 140 percent. There are huge increases in Wicomico (155 percent) and Queen Anne's (188 percent) counties. 

Experts say heroin is in the suburbs and kids have access to it.

"You don't have to go into the city to buy heroin like we did in the 60s, 70s and 80s," said Mike Gimbel. "It comes to them."

Drug expert and former heroin addict Mike Gimbel says heroin is now cheap and powerful.

"Me and my friend, we were getting very experimental," Edgecomb said.

When asked if she was scared of a drug like heroin at all, Edgecomb said: "I was up for anything."

Her one-time heroin use left her needing around-the-clock care.

"I feel so bad that I put you through all this," Edgecomb said to her mother.

Her mom tells WJZ she suspected her daughter was drinking, maybe even smoking pot—but never heroin.

"I had no idea that it was in the suburbs like it is," said Lisa Essich, Lea's mother.

"The big thing is not to make the assumption that just because we live in a certain neighborhood, make a certain amount of money that our kids aren't going to be subjected or get addicted to drugs that we think belong only in the inner city. That's not the way it is," Gimbel said.

Edgecomb believes she survived  to save others. Now she's speaking at schools across Maryland.

What she wants teenagers to know about heroin is to" be above the influence, don't be as stupid as I was," she said.

"If I saw a girl like me at an assembly at my school , I probably wouldn't have touched it," Edgecomb said.

Her life as a quadriplegic is a brutal wake-up call.

"This truly can happen to anyone because hearing her story, she was no different than us," said Aramide Olorunyomi, Northwest High School senior.

"Everyday I live with the fact that I could have done more," Essich said. "There is more I should have done. It's my job to save her, protect her. I wasn't there to protect her."

Edgecomb hopes to visit more schools throughout Maryland, showing students how trying drugs even one time can cause consequences they never dreamed of.

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