Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona

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On January 13, 33 television stations in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma and most of the state’s radio stations will air “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona.” It’s a 30-minute show produced by advanced journalism students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication that details the growing problem of heroin abuse in our state. Art Brooks, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Broadcasters Association, Jacquee Petchel, a Cronkite professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and editor who oversaw the production of the program, and Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, will discuss the show and the heroin problem.

Ted Simons: Next Tuesday, television stations in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma along with most of state's radio stations will air a 30-minute investigative record titled "Hooked: Tracking Heroin's Hold on Arizona."

Video: It was literally like the devil.

Video: You think you can move away from it, it'll follow you no matter how far you go.

Video: It's an absolute epidemic.

Video: It's a distribution hub for the United States.

Video: It's a drug that devastates an entire society.

Video: The only two outcomes of heroin are prison and death.

Ted Simons: The program is produced by advanced journalism students at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Joining us now to talk more about the statewide effort is Art Brooks, he is the President and CEO of the Arizona Broadcasters Association. Jacquee Petchel a Cronkite professor and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter and editor who oversaw the production of the program. And Doug Coleman, special agent in the Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Good to have you all here, thanks for joining us. Art, let's start with you. What is going to be shown statewide on radio and TV?

Art Brooks: A half hour outstanding production from the Cronkite school. It's been an outstanding production but we have 33 stations committed to air the program, same time, same day. As of right now we have 93 radio stations, same time, same day.

Ted Simons: Difficult getting all these folks on board? Noah's Ark action?

Art Brooks: It's interesting. When there's a vital crisis going on in your communities around the state, local broadcasters step up.

Ted Simons: And as far as the ASU journalism students stepping up, talk to us about what the goal was, and what the results were.

Jaquee Petchel: Well, the goal of course was to produce first a top-notch production that would be worthy of being aired on every broadcast in Arizona. But beyond that, beyond the actual work, I mean, the goal of any public university of course is to educate a new generation of students. In this case I think not only were they learning their craft but they were involved in a really important social issue. And so they are learning more than journalism. They are learning more than how to produce a documentary. They are learning about an issue that's really important in their community. And a lot of the trending ages of addicts are not that much different than some students. I think it's a really important thing for them to be exposed to.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about that. What is heroin's hold on Arizona?

Doug Coleman: Heroin's hold is really a result of an increased use of prescription drugs and prescription drug abuse by young people in this country. Prescription drugs have a clean look about them because they are given by a doctor. Kids get these think they are okay because they came from a doctor, it's in mom and dad's medicine cabinet. They steal them and get high. Most of them are opiate based, opium and heroin, same thing. Kids pretty soon can't afford the pills and they have to switch to street heroin.

Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness. You're seeing that among younger and younger folks?

Doug Coleman: They are having to farm parties where they throw the drugs they stole from mom and dad into a little jar and they take them when they get there. They think the drugs are okay because they came from a doctor. Next thing, we have a generation of heroin addicts.

Ted Simons: There are a lot of issues in Arizona affecting a lot of folks. How do you decide which one is worth this kind of effort?

Art Brooks: Almost seven years ago in 2008 we did a program called crystal darkness, an anti-meth program. Markets coming together, TV and radio markets together, to do something at the same time, same day. So it's got to be something to the extent of what Doug just explained. It's a crisis level and kids are dying. And crime rate is high. So I think the broadcasters take a look at this and assess that and think we need to do something. We have the ability to step into this and really make a difference and save some lives.

Ted Simons: As far as the students are concerned, talk about getting the stories together, getting the investigative teams together, how many professors, how much faculty, how many students were involved?

Jaquee Petchel: Probably at least 50 to 70 students involved, some of them way more than others. There was a core group of probably 30 who were the heavy lifters. There probably was about nine or so faculty involved in various aspects of it. It was a big commitment to the project, and we just basically told the students, go out and find addicts, talk to people. And they measured up every step of the way, I have to say.

Ted Simons: And this was a semester-long project?

Jaquee Petchel: We worked on it for basically less than 16 weeks.

Ted Simons: Interesting. When you saw the program, before you saw the program, what did you hope would be emphasized? And now that we're going to see the program what, has been emphasized?

Doug Coleman: It hits everything it needs to hit, and I think it's a powerful message we have to send. The program is about saving lives. When people see this, we will save lives with this. If we save one kid, all the work done is worth it.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the prescription drug aspect of it. Is that going to change? How do you change something like that? Because it is out there and it becomes part of the dynamic.

Doug Coleman: The prescription drug thing has to be changed by education. We're targeting programs like this, targeting these young kids to make them realize because it comes from a doctor doesn't mean it's okay to use outside of the way your doctor tells you to use it. You go down this road, here's what the result could be. The program hits it perfectly.

Ted Simons: As far as what you want to see from this particular effort, again, the goal is obviously communication, education, that's got to be out there this is a big issue. Heroin is not new.

Art Brooks: It's not going to cure the issue. But it's going to stimulate the conversation and the education. I think this other thing, we have a call center related to this. From the time the first broadcast goes on the Spanish side at 5:00, the general market will air it at 6:30. We have a call center set up right here at Channel 8 in the main studio. 100 phones, 100 call-takers all from the treatment and recovery industry. They will be able to answer a lot of questions. I think we'll know pretty quickly during that broadcast the need and the identification of what is going on. That phone bank will fill up and probably stay filled up throughout the three or four hours it'll be open.

Ted Simons: And these are for folks who want counseling, more information, these things?

Art Brooks: They want access. We may have some 9-1-1 type calls, some suicide calls. We don't know right now. But we have a pretty good idea a pretty good feel for what kind of calls we're going to get.

Ted Simons: Did you have a pretty good idea or feel on what you were going to get? Obviously there's a plan, the plan is put in place and you get the results. Were you surprised by anything? Did you learn anything?

Jaquee Petchel: Of course I learned a lot, mostly about the ability for our students to really stretch themselves. Sadly I've done this a long time and nothing really surprises me. I think what was really surprising to me was the number of addicts that we were able to reach relatively easily. When I say that, people who are willing to talk about their experiences, and people, as well, in law enforcement, who are willing to talk about the problem. And I think I wasn't surprised that I'm extremely pleased with the project, not its topic but the result. If there's one thing a public university should be doing, I don't know if one has tried to do something like this before, it is to engage in public service as part of the education process. I think that's what these students did.

Ted Simons: That's interesting, you're saying people were as open as they were. As a society heroin has been around for a long time and we've heard about it as a problem for a long time. Has society changed its views on this, are they more open?

Doug Coleman: Heroin has been around but it's always been a specific subset of people that used it. We didn't see a lot of crossover into the younger generation. With the rise in prescription drug abuse now we have heroin abuse with young kids. It's a dirty, nasty drug, but with the crossover between the prescription drugs and the opiate addiction going into the heroin abuse, it's spread into a whole different demographic than we've ever seen before.

Art Brooks: Tuesday evening, January 13th, Spanish version television, 5:00 to 5:30. The rest of the stations in the state will go 6:30 to 7:00. The radio broadcasts will join in 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. It'll be posted on the Cronkite School website for download, and there will be ways to access that program. And don't forget the call center. The numbers will be in the program that evening.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good to have you all here, congratulations on this project. Thank you so much.

Art Brooks: Thank you.

Art Brooks:President and Chief Executive Officer, Arizona Broadcasters Association; Jacquee Petchel:Professor, Pulitzer Prize-winning Investigative Reporter and Editor, Hooked: Tracking Heroin's Hold on Arizona; Doug Coleman:Special Agent, Phoenix Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration;

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