Heroin addiction continues to be an issue in Charlottesville

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Heroin remains the biggest drug problem in Charlottesville despite efforts to get it under control.

Kevin Mellette started using heroin when he was 15. He said he did it to be "cool" around his friends, but he did not think it would take over his life.

"Once this thing grabs a hold to you, it becomes like your god. It's what you worship," said Mellette. "It was pretty consistent where I woke up to it and I went to bed to it each and every day, each and every night."

He said he knew he had a problem, but he could not convince himself to quit.

"It's not hard to identify you need to change but for some reason or another what you do is you fantasize about the fact of maybe you can still do both," said Mellette.

Mellette is not alone in the struggle. According to the Virginia Department of Health, deaths from heroin and fentanyl overdoses have been growing dramatically in Virginia.

Fentanyl is a drug often mixed with heroin without the user knowing. In 2015, those drugs caused 471 deaths. Two years later, the number was twice as high at 938 deaths.

Sergeant Tony Newberry from the Charlottesville Police Department said these increasing numbers do not discourage people from using the drug. In fact, it does the opposite.

"A lot of times where you will see there are overdoses, that doesn't actually stop the sale of drugs in that area," said Newberry. "That actually will increase because people find out how powerful that was if they find out people were overdosing. It's not necessarily a deterrent to the customer."

Newberry said heroin is becoming more popular in Charlottesville. But buying it locally is not easy. Mellette said he had to travel to find it.

"I found that I had difficulties buying heroin here in Charlottesville where I would have to travel to spots like Richmond. I would have to travel to Norfolk," said Mellette.

Regardless, people in Charlottesville are using heroin and Newberry said it spans all ages, races, and income levels. However, poor drug users are more likely to be caught.

"When you have money, you can hide things better. That's just the way it is," said Newberry. "But you will find in a lower income area, whether it's in the city or in the country, things are going to be harder to hide."

Newberry said police are not actively trying to put addicts in jail but are required to respond to crime, which is why drug court gives people like Mellette a second chance.

"The court system offered me an opportunity to get myself together one last final time," said Mellette.

After two years in the program, he graduated from drug court and has been clean since September 2015. He said he is grateful to wake up each day, but his addiction is a fight with which he will never stop dealing.

"I'm still on this journey because I can make no promises of whether or not will I not ever use again," said Mellette. "The only thing that I can do is kind of stay present in the moment and just try to get from day-to-day."

Newberry said they are trying to stop addictions before they start by having officers visit schools to educate kids on the danger of drugs.

Those who realize they have an addiction problem can go to Region Ten for treatment centers, group meetings, and one-on-one counseling. Mellette said focusing on his job at The Haven and working on writing a book about his journey have also helped him.