'Children of the Mountains' Get Help

"We want him to be able to trade his gift for football to have a better life," he said.

Erica: 'I Want to Get Away'

In another part of the hills, 11-year-old Erica prayed for her mother, Mona, to beat her addiction to painkillers.

"She's almost 50, and if I don't get her out of this town soon, then she'll probably die any day. The future, we'll never know about," Erica said.

Mother and daughter live in the abandoned coal town of Cumberland, Ky., but Erica dreams of moving them to Georgia where a friend lives.

When ABC News first met Erica, Mona was being sent to rehab, but she soon returned home to her daughter and her addiction. To escape, Erica goes on walks through the boarded-up town. She says she knows when her mother is high by the look in her mother's eyes.

"The reason I go on these walks is because I want to get away from my mom when she's like that," she said.

Erica has a guardian angel, a mentor named Karen Engle, the executive director of Operation UNITE.

"She's a very special young lady and has a lot of potential, but she's got a lot of obstacles like a lot of our kids do," Engle said.

Launched in 2003, UNITE is an anti-drug initiative that combines law enforcement, treatment and education. Engle works tirelessly, confronting the prescription pill epidemic and educating students about the dangers of using drugs.

The prescription drug abuse rate that Engle sees in the mountains is twice that of major cities like New York or Miami. Kentucky is second only to Utah in prescription drug abuse.

"Every single family in our region has been affected by this," Engle said. "They're somebody's child, somebody's brother or sister, mom or dad, and it's changed the face of our region."

Many of the dealers are users themselves, traveling to places like Detroit or Philadelphia to buy OxyContin in bulk. Paying roughly $40 a pill in the big cities, they return to Appalachia with up to 150,000 pills and mark them up to about $120 because the desire is so great, the profits enormous. Engle said she's seen big dealers make almost $400,000 per month.

More common, though, she says, are the doctors who prescribe the cheaper pills like Xanax or Lortabs. Medicaid will pay for such prescriptions, which users then sell for a $4 to $10 profit per pill.

People will do anything to support their habit: They climb telephone poles to steal copper wires, melt them down and take them to a metal recycler for cash. Police told ABC News it's not uncommon for copper pipes to be stolen right out of the walls of people's houses.

Erica's mother Mona is drinking again, but says she has not gone back to pills.

Courtney: 'We Do Not Have the Money'

Across the mountains in Inez, Ky., 12-year-old Courtney's mother, Angel, also struggled to stay away from prescription pills.

"I would have to have 10 pain pills just to get started, to not be sick," she said. "I would do 30 to 40 a day, easy. There were days I'd go to drug counseling, but as soon as I left, I'd sit in the parking lot and snort a pill."

Courtney said she used to lock herself in the bathroom and cry when her mom got high.

She and her three younger sisters bounced from place to place and are grateful they now have a place to sleep -- at her grandparents' house where their two uncles, one aunt, three sisters, and her mom's boyfriend, Bill, also live.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...