Gas Station Owner's Heroin Addiction Awareness Signs Go Viral

By McCarton Ackerman 06/22/16

After losing many of his customers to overdoses, Wisconsin native Dick Hiers decided to use his business to impart a change in his community. 

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Gas Station Owner's Heroin Addiction Awareness Signs Go Viral
Photo via Facebook/Samaritan's Hand Inc.

Frustrated by the toll that the heroin epidemic has taken on his community, a Wisconsin convenience store owner is raising awareness of the issue by placing signs in front of his shop with anti-heroin messages. 

Sheboygan native Dick Hiers told USA Today that he’s lost more than 30 customers to overdoses. Several of the signs he’s posted outside his store, which is attached to a BP gas station, have gone viral on social media, including "Heroin is killing people — help wanted" and "Wake up! Your kids are dying — heroin." Hiers said the fatal overdose of a local teen was the catalyst for him to try and address the issue.

"The last one that affected me more than anything was Dakota, 19 years old with a 2-year-old child,” he said. “She came in here, her parents came in here, her sister comes here. I decided something needed to be done to bring some awareness to it.”

The signs have garnered some attention from locals. Two faith-based addiction support programs, Samaritan’s Hand and the Christian Intervention Program, have reached out to Hiers and offered assistance. Samaritan’s Hand will hold a “Prayer at the Pump” at his store on June 29. 

But while the signs have gone viral nationally, Hiers expressed frustration that they’ve changed little with local police. He blamed them for being slow to respond and not doing anything to establish preventive measures to fix the drug problem in the community.

"A lot of people thought it was cute and took pictures of it, but no one was knocking on my door to find out why,” said Hiers. "We've watched deals out here on the driveway for years now, and for us to call (the police) is useless because nothing happens. It’s more than frustrating.”

But Sheboygan Police Chief Chris Domagalski responded by declaring his force couldn’t be solely responsible for handling the opioid epidemic. He called for a greater community response to help tackle the problem and create meaningful reforms.

"A successful approach involves a coordinated community effort focused on preventive efforts such as education on the dangers of drug and alcohol use and abuse and the long-term consequences including problems with physical and mental health, relationships, employment, and the law," said Domagalski.

Other communities have also taken on similar initiatives. The Capital Gazette reported that Anne Arundel County in Maryland placed banners near police stations displaying the number of heroin overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, in the area. As of April 18, there were 212 opioid overdoses this year in the county and 31 of them were fatal, compared to 104 overdoses and 15 deaths last year.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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