by: Mark Becker Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Some call it Charlotte's invisible epidemic.
The number of annual heroin overdoses has more than doubled over the last three years, and the drug is easy to find.
But even more alarming, many heroin addicts are starting as teenagers.
A Charlotte mother told Eyewitness News reporter Mark Becker it can happen to anyone.
Deanna Uhler never imagined that the little boy smiling back at her from his childhood would die from a heroin overdose before his 22nd birthday.
Uhler didn't suspect he was using heroin and said he had everything going for him.
He went from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout and was a brilliant student who loved the outdoors.
But behind his smile, Alex Uhler was tormented by anxiety.
He had trouble sleeping and, like many teenagers, started by using prescription
drugs, then discovered that heroin was cheaper and easier to get.
"As much as I hate to say it, he told me, 'I love heroin,'" Deanna Uhler said. "He loved it."
Alex Uhler was living in Myers Park, going to Queens College when he had his first overdose.
"I don't know why I thought it wouldn't happen again," she said. "Three months later, he was gone."
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Lt. Nate King has charted the alarming rise in heroin overdoses across Charlotte and said that like Alex Uhler, many of the victims started as teenagers.
He's formed a team to get the word out by teaching school nurses from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools how to recognize if a student's using heroin.
And Deanna Uhler is right there with him.
"I think parents need to realize that (this is not only affecting troubled kids)," Uhler said. "It's affecting the kids who are doing well in school, your cheerleaders, your football players. It's everywhere.
She may always wonder why she didn't see it until her son, the boy with all the dreams, was gone.
There is help. If you or someone you know is using heroin, police recommend the Center for Prevention Services.
See all the 9 Investigates stories from Eyewitness News by clicking here.
9 Investigation: Heroin addiction seen at younger ages
Driver on the run after leading troopers on chase along I-85
Troopers identify 22-year-old woman killed in Catawba County crash
Lowe's announces 525 layoffs; 430 at corporate office in Mooresville
Pilot radioed in 'Mayday' call before Australian plane crash