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Heroin Costs World Famous Harmonica Player Everything

Heroin use has been increasing in the U.S., and addiction often has a high price that isn't just financial.

  • Jason Ricci on the international touring circuit

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    Photo: Courtesy of Martin Raffner

    Jason Ricci on the international touring circuit.

  • Jason Ricci came to Indiana to get out of New Orleans and get off heroin

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    Jason Ricci came to Indiana to get out of New Orleans and get off heroin.

  • Jason Ricci was arrested twice in two weeks after burgularizing a friends music studio for drug money

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    Jason Ricci was arrested twice in two weeks after burglarizing a friends music studio for drug money.

  • Jason can no longer leave the state to tour. But he still plays shows in the area

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    Photo: Simon Thompson

    Jason can no longer leave the state to tour, but he still plays shows in the area.

  • Recreational use of drugs and experimentation was commonplace in New Orleans where Ricci lived before he came to New Orleans

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    Recreational use of drugs and experimentation was commonplace in New Orleans where Ricci lived before he came to Indiana.

  • Heroin confiscated from the Indiana streets

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    Photo: Courtesy of The Hamilton/Boone County Drug Task Force

    Heroin confiscated from the Indiana streets.

Blues musician Jason Ricci was 11 years sober with the world at his feet.

He had a recording contract,a touring schedule that took him around the globe and a slew of awards.

Here’s a video of him playing at a concert in Germany on one of his many European tours.

“I have a 2010 BMA award,” Ricci says four years later. “It is a blues music award- it is a division of the Grammys for the best harmonic player of the year, that year. I have records in stores and I have everything.”

Living in New Orleans and playing in bands exposed Ricci to a subculture where drug experimentation and recreational use was customary.

“I met a girl – she was junky,” Ricci says. “It was pretty much my job to make sure that she could get the drug so she didn’t have to sell her body.”

Despite more than a decade of restraint, Ricci eventually fell victim to his environment.

Within six months, Ricci’s recreational use spiraled into a full blown, daily addiction. Sometimes he’d black out and lose track of days. Eventually, he became completely incapable of touring.

But it wasn’t until his girlfriend of the time got arrested for heroin possession and prostitution that Ricci decided to get clean.

A Change Of Scene

Ricci knew he wasn’t going to be able to do it in New Orleans, so he came to stay with some friends in Indiana while he waited to get into a treatment program.

“They were the only ones that would take me,” Ricci says. “‘Yeah come to our house – we live in Brown County – it’s way out in the country there is not way you’ll ever find dope here.’”

But eventually he did, and the burglary he performed to get the money for drugs landed him in prison with a class C felony.

Ricci still plays in smaller venues in the area, but he can’t leave the state to go on bigger tours. He’s not selling as many records or getting much play on the radio.

With  royalty checks getting slimmer, he’s been forced to get creative – and now  he makes most of his money teaching harmonica over Skype.

How Prescription Abuse Can Lead To Heroin

Jon Ferguson has been working with drug addicts in recovery for 12 years.
He says the path from recreational use to addiction is a common one.

In Indiana, he says the availability and recreational use of prescription painkillers is accelerating the process and pushing heroin into suburban and rural areas.

“If that supply runs out, its then a cheaper alternative to go to heroin and that’s the scary thing,” Ferguson says.

And at a cheaper price heroin is even powerful than legal painkillers.

Prosecutor Aaron Negangard spearheaded an aggressive prosecution program to curb the increasing accessibility of heroin.  Dealers in Dearborn County can be charged with reckless homicide if they’re found to have sold drugs to an addict who overdoses and dies.

“We had big time dealers –say ‘I am not coming to Indiana to deliver because of the penalties and the prosecution so that is good,” he says.

While this approach has helped funnel users in to treatment programs Negangard acknowledges that the  higher penalties don’t do much to curb the demand for heroin. Ultimately he says users will travel to other counties or cross state lines to buy it.

Ricci says he was willing to do just about anything.

“I was willing to sell myself for dope. You name it- lie, cheat, steal, prostitution the whole nine.”

Heroin is a hard drug with a lifelong addiction.

Ninety-percent of all addicts who get clean relapse within the first two years, most of them in the first six months following treatment.

Taylor Killough contributed to this report 

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