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.

Comments (60)
  1. Teacher says:

    How can one contact Lea Edgecombto visit my school?

  2. Angel says:

    Thank You Lea and I pray more young people will listen. Drugs are everywhere no matter where you live. If you are stupid to keep doing, then you will get just what you deserves out of it. Parents get your kids and stop looking over the mountain like you don’t see or know what they are doing.

  3. Grieving Mother says:

    Unfortunately if you have been affected by a death of someone who has passed due to substance abuse, we felt the need to start the first Maryland chapter of GRASP (grief recovery after substance passing) – first meeting 5/16 @ 7p at the Baltimore County Library/Perry Hall branch on Honeygo Blvd. GRASP also has a facebook page. My son died 5 months ago. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers during this time.

  4. Wambulancer says:

    I agree with Willie 1000% get rid of the damn mules out here that are to lazy to work for a living and this problem will get alot better. Read the paper and watch the news folks and see where the majority of the crime is. Also you will find that these people are also the ones on welfare that we go to work everyday to support. What a nice democratic country we live in. Lets give everything to the poor people and take everything from the working middle class. Ever listen to a rap song dont you see this is where most of the drug dealers are born. I dont feel sorry for this girl. I have did drugs socially all my life and would never have dreamed of doing heroin. If someone is that stupid to put a foreign substance up there nose then so be it. Where was the mother or father when this was taking place. She should have been listening to a ipod or watching a movie. The more pressure you put on a kid the more there going to be a rebel. Give them some alcohol and pot when they turn 18 and tell them this is all they need to have a good time. I dont feel sorry for any heroin addict is a very trashy drug and if they cant find something else to do with there time then let them all die!!!!!!!!!

  5. Wambulancer says:

    I will also agree with you guys that say we are way to easy on these criminals such as drug dealers, gun offenders and people that commit murder for gangs. They should all be hung out in the town square for people to see and throw things at and then maybe these stupid fools would get a clue to stop acting like a bunch of animals in that stupid Bmore city!

  6. You know who says:

    People can be so dense. You people live in and around Baltimore the heroin capital of the country. Everyone who lives somewhere else knows that city is famous for 2 things…crabs and heroin. If you think you’ve escaped it, you haven’t at sometime someone you know will have a drug problem and you’ll eat your words. Ignorance.

    To anyone who has lost someone to this DISEASE, I’m so sorry.

    This problem in the counties began in the early 90’s

  7. marie says:

    Heroin has been in the suburbs since the early 90’s It has been in the city even longer
    What gets me is Why is it that Heroin addiction being a issue was Never a story worth writing about UNTIL it moved to the suburbs and a lot of pardon me for saying it but white kids with well off parrents started ODing from it?
    Mind you i am white It jkust gets me how a lot of inner city black folks can dioe from Heroin addiction and overdose and no one write a story or really give a darn. Now though it is a major issue
    In all honesty though if this is what it takes to get more rehab slots and programs hey i am all for it but it is sad that the many Unnamed addicts whose family members gave up on them or did not have money or were not of the right skin color died over the years without any story or anyone caring

    1. Lea's Mother says:

      Marie, The story is not about just the heroin problem in the suburbs, it’s about Lea, a 17 year old girl who admittedly made a mistake and through her life changing event and ordeal wants to talk to other kids. She believes her life was saved so that she can save other lives. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t but I personally have NEVER seen any stories on any kids who have overdosed on any drug go public with their story. I have read through every single one of these comments and not one of them have addressed what this story is really about. Yes, there is a heroin problem. Yes it is in the city. Yes it is in the suburbs. Are there any other teenagers going on national news or going into public high schools and public forums admitting the mistake and pleading with other kids to not make the same choice and end up like she has? Lea has to live with the decision she made 2 years ago for the REST OF HER LIFE. I know, I am her mother. Our entire family has been affected by this. I am by NO MEANS “well off” in fact, I am a single mother with 3 children, not only do I have Lea who is now disabled, I have another child who was born with special needs. My life is far from “well off” I work my ass off every single day not only at my job but at home. I moved to Montgomery County because of the programs they have for special needs children, not because I am well off. I am so tired of people generalizing everything because she’s white because she’s from a suburb, Maybe she just wanted to do the right thing after she did the wrong thing? I have only seen out of the 57 comments on this page maybe 3 or 4 that actually got the point of this news segment. I am proud of my daughter for wanting to come forward and try to make some difference in this crazy world we live in.

  8. Rx Veteran says:

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

    It should say self-described drug expert. Look at Gimbel’s resume on his website. He lists high school and a minor 1 or 2 year addiction degree. Nothing more.

    I have an ax to grind here. I do not like his stance on harm reduction. Wonder if the mom of that paralyzed girl knew Mr. Gimbel is against antidote kits being distributed to addicts? A kit that could have saved her kid from loss of oxygen.

    “You give them the Narcan, where is their motivation to change? The addict is going to say, ‘I just overdosed and I got another lease on life – great,’ ” said Michael Gimbel, a recovering heroin addict who was director of substance abuse in Maryland’s Baltimore County for 23 years. “Giving Narcan might give them that false sense that ‘I can live forever,’ which is not what we want.”

    The TV station should have checked with the School of Pharmacy or some other REAL experts before giving this guy another pulpit.

    IMHO YMMV

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