Special Reports

States of Addiction: Inject Heroin, Reject Life

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) - On a warm spring day in Huntington, West Virginia, a cold reminder of the harsh realities drove by. 

Behind the wheel of the "Heroin Hearse," was Dwayne Woods. 

"This old beast will keep up with traffic until we hit a hill," Dwayne said jokingly while we drove along I-64. "Then we're done." 

The black '88 Buick hearse is an attention grabber. 

Stenciled on the side are the words  "Inject Heroin, Reject Life." On the back, it reads "Heroin Kills," and asks "is this your last ride?"

Dwayne says the hearse, which is meant to carry death, is actually giving life to people struggling through the world of addiction. He wants "the streets," to know that there is help out there.

"Choice or not, you know, addiction is here and if we choose to do nothing about it, it's going to remain here and it's going to continue to grow," Dwayne said. 

The back of his hearse was stockpiled with food kits donated by a local church. A can of beans, a Nutri-Grain bar, and water offered some nourishment for an empty stomach. He handed out several while I avoided getting in the way of a man doing his work to help others. 

"These streets will talk to you if you just listen," Dwayne said. 

If someone is not within earshot of his voice, Dwayne uses a set of sirens to get their attention. The person is usually greeted with a smile through a handle-bar style mustache. Most men he talks to are called "brother." 

Dwayne's work goes beyond the streets. The Heroin Hearse Facebook page features fundraisers, commentary, and videos to his more than 7,000 followers. In one video, he shows the skin-crawling conditions of a "bando," where people have been using drugs and sleeping. 

I met Dwayne at a gas station off of Madison Avenue in Huntington on the first Wednesday in May. Several people were interested in learning more about the hearse and getting a black rubber wristband in support of Dwayne's mission. 

He asked if I wanted to go into the world of addiction. One of his goals was to get my white dress shirt dirty. 

During our ride, we visited the Cabell-Huntington Health Department to drop off a shocking amount of "rigs," a street name for syringes. 

We went out to some "hot spots," in search of more rigs, finding just a few. Dwayne said that was good news. 

Dwayne also took me for a walk through a wooded area leading up to some sort of encampment. 

In the middle of talking, a man and a woman walked up on us and quickly changed directions. 

"This is their home," Dwayne said. "We have to respect that."  

Whoever was living there, left behind bottles, torn up blankets and some syringes. At the site, Dwayne pointed out an oxygen mask signaling EMS may have been there at some point to revive a person. 

The hearse is typically stocked with naloxone, an overdose reversal drug. The antidote also known commercially as "narcan," has been growing in popularity. Stronger, more dangerous compounds of narcotics have caused a surge in overdoses. Naloxone is looked at as an essential tool in the fight against opioids. 

For more than 15 months, Dwayne's approach to tackling the crisis is with compassion. His aim is to get people into treatment. 

One of the last people he gave a food kit to, he hugged, while saying one of his favorite phrases "right on."

As we drove by a local park, he excitedly pointed out his kids with "Miss Donna." He turned us into the parking lot, hopped out and called for his son and daughter. 

"Dad!" A little girl screamed out in joy as she jumped off of her swing. 

Her brother was quick to point out the fun day they had with Miss Donna, who accidentally spilled a little-melted McFlurry on her shirt. 

"Ain't good if you're not wearing it," Miss Donna said with a laugh. 

Dwayne sat down with the three of them and wanted me to listen in. 

"We all have one common goal," he said. "That's the preservation of life for us all and to see that these children have a future." 

Dwayne said, "That's why we're on the streets."

The Heroin Hearse's home base is now in South Point, Ohio. However, the work will continue in Huntington and everywhere else he travels. 

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