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Heroin Upsurge: Pills to Heroin
  from Jules Levin, NATAP
Below are 5 articles collected from online newspaper reports including the Washington Post that all report the same thing - in Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Vermont, I could go on - the reports are endless - pill abusers including teen pill abusers are increasingly moving onto heroin instead because of the crackdown on prescription pill abuse making it easier & cheaper to use heroin. This is likely to create a different type of HCV epidemic as well
"Efforts to stamp out pill abuse simply led to the increased popularity of heroin, a dark drug that has been lurking in the background during all these decades.......The Sun Sentinel reported earlier this year that one side effect of the state's crackdown on pill mills has been an increase in heroin usage. As the number of pill suppliers dwindled, oxycodone addicts found themselves turning to heroin, which provides a similar high, because it became easier to get, experts and addicts said.....Users often start on prescription meds because they are easily available and considered safe. Once hooked, they may move on to heroin, which is now easier to try because it's pure enough to snort or smoke rather than inject......The police in Baltimore, Chicago, Michigan, Washington state and the suburbs of Philadelphia have all reached the same conclusion. Measures to reduce prescription drug abuse - by adjusting the chemistry of such pills as oxycodone to make them less desirable or through increased penalties - have pushed addicts to heroin.......Sadly, prescription pills have become the staging area and connection between alcohol or marijuana and heroin and other drugs," said Joe Peters, senior executive deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania."
Pills to Heroin Documentary
To View documentary:
Police seek answers as heroin overdoses surge in Delray Beach
Cops appeal to public for information
December 23, 2013|By Brett Clarkson, Sun Sentinel
A surge in heroin overdoses in Delray Beach has city police appealing to the public for information in an effort to shed some light on the disturbing trend. Since Dec. 1, the Delray Beach Police Department has "handled in excess of 20 cases" of heroin overdoses, the agency announced in a press release issued Monday afternoon.
"We have seen a significant increase in the amount of heroin overdoses this month," said Delray Beach police acting public information officer Rachel Vanness.
One of those overdoses is believed to have been fatal, although police are still awaiting toxicology reports, the release said. Vanness declined to release the deceased person's identity.
The cases are being investigated by the Vice, Intelligence and Narcotics Unit. Investigators in Delray are working the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office drug lab, where "seized narcotics are being tested," police said in the statement. Vanness said the increased number of overdoses "speaks for itself, there's something not right." She also said the general public needs to be aware of the potentially fatal risk associated with the narcotic.
The Sun Sentinel reported earlier this year that one side effect of the state's crackdown on pill mills has been an increase in heroin usage. As the number of pill suppliers dwindled, oxycodone addicts found themselves turning to heroin, which provides a similar high, because it became easier to get, experts and addicts said.
Police in Delray Beach are encouraging anybody with information to call Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County or the Delray Beach police tips hotline at 561-243-7839. As well, information can be reported through the Delray Beach police smartphone app.
"We're hoping it increases their awareness that obviously drugs are bad, and also, that if anybody has any additional information, that they can contact those hotlines that we've provided," Vanness said.
Aggressive pill enforcement pushes young suburbanites to heroin
By Phil Trexler Beacon Journal staff writer
Published: January 6, 2014
In the '60s, the focus was on LSD, marijuana, turning on and tuning out. In the '70s, it was cocaine at the discoth¸que. The '80s meant crack cocaine abuse, that urban nemesis that led Nancy Reagan to plead: "Say no to drugs." The '90s saw a rise in methamphetamine and homemade potions. Americans learned the drug could be made with similar household products.
As the century turned, opiate use, such as prescription painkillers and heroin, came into vogue. Abuse rose, and the government and media are reacting. To many, the opiate/heroin plague is simply a shift in America's attention on drug abuse.
Efforts to stamp out pill abuse simply led to the increased popularity of heroin, a dark drug that has been lurking in the background during all these decades.
Heroin use is far from an urban problem. It's as accessible as it is enticing. Its grip, relentless. Its allure reaches young adults, some teens, from the poor to the wealthy.
Authorities estimate that 11 people die every week in Ohio from heroin overdoses.
"The death and devastation wreaked by heroin is a crisis. And it is not just a crisis for some. Heroin is everyone's problem," said Steven Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for northern Ohio. "Heroin is everyone's problem. It is our brothers and sisters who are dying, our aunts and uncles, and yes, our children." Dettelbach made the comments during a recent area summit of community leaders, law enforcement and medical professionals. The startling rise in heroin-related deaths has brought the drug to the forefront of discussion.
Back from the dead
The truth is, the death toll could be much higher, if not for the intervention of paramedics.
In Akron, paramedics have used a drug called Narcan 45 times for 250 reported overdose cases. Rescue workers say the drug essentially reverses the effects of heroin and brings people "back from the dead."
"Keep in mind that this is truly a lifesaving drug, but some of our patients may have been past the point of resuscitation and Narcan would not have been administered at all," said Capt. Joseph Natko, who oversees the city's EMS bureau.
"I'd have to agree with the 'epidemic' statement. We now see heroin use in a much larger scale than we've ever seen it before."
The rash of deaths statewide - 606 in Ohio last year - and the four-year growth of use has prompted Attorney General Mike DeWine to declare heroin use an epidemic.
To combat the problem, DeWine has created a unit of investigators, lawyers and drug abuse specialists to deal with issues associated with heroin use. Gov. John Kasich created the Governor's Cabinet Opiate Action Team, which in October released stricter guideline recommendations for physicians prescribing pain meds.
DeWine's office has been involved in revoking the licenses of more than two dozen doctors and pharmacists for improperly prescribing pain meds. In addition, criminal charges have resulted in convictions against 15 doctors, pharmacists and traffickers.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, per capita distribution of opiate pain meds has risen from seven in 1997 to 67 in 2011. The number of opiate-related deaths rose 447 percent, from 327 in 1999 to 1,765 in 2011. "Communities have to wake up. If you don't think you have a problem, you are probably wrong," said DeWine. "Local law enforcement understands the problem. As I have traveled the state, over and over sheriffs and police and coroners tell me how bad it is.
"Unfortunately, there are people out there who don't believe heroin is really in their communities. They don't want to believe that this can be them - that this can be their child who is addicted or who is going to die from a heroin overdose. The numbers tell a different story."
One thread continues to arise from the ashes of the heroin plague.
Government intervention in the painkiller market has made heroin all the more popular. You hear it from users, and you hear it from counselors.
Still, more changes are in the offing to regulate prescription painkillers. To many, drugs like Vicodin and Percocet are a gateway to heroin.
Suburban crisis
"They're willing to do anything for it," said Uniontown Police Chief Harold Britt. "Heroin is an epidemic right now."
The chief speaks from experience.
He's heard of young girls prostituting themselves for the drug.
Others, he said, are breaking into homes and cars.
He recently conducted an investigation into the death of a 20-year-old resident who was found unconscious by family members. The man had overdosed a day after being released from jail Oct. 31.
For nearly the past decade, federal and state authorities targeted unscrupulous doctors who prescribed painkillers to more and more patients.
News stories document pill doctors in Florida feeding a pipeline of painkillers into Ohio by way of Kentucky and West Virginia. Similar pain clinics popped up everywhere.
Southern Ohio was especially popular to the pill-mill trade.
In reaction, law enforcement began focusing on doctors who over-prescribe. They also changed the formulas of some narcotic painkillers, making it impossible for a pill to be crushed.
The government reaction squeezed the opiate market, and the laws of supply and demand took over. Fewer pills on the streets meant higher prices. As a result, users in greater numbers embraced heroin, a faster-acting opiate that costs far less than a pill and works better.
The addiction to heroin, however, is far greater and more intense. So, too, are the withdrawals and the potential for overdose.
Younger victims
More deaths of young people have caught the attention of state attorneys, federal prosecutors and police departments large and small.
In little Brimfield Township, Police Chief David Oliver laments the heroin death of a 19-year-old former high school cheerleader as a symbol of the devastating effects of the drugs.
Years ago, Oliver worked as an undercover narcotics agent. He's seen tremendous change in the heroin market: users as young as 19 and as old as 60.
' Users often steal from family members and then target others, stealing and pawning what they can in order to buy more. The high, he said, is often gone. Instead, users keep abusing in order to avoid the dire withdrawal symptoms. "The drug is far more prevalent and dangerous than any other time I have seen in my career," he said. "The heroin I bought undercover in 1999 for $100 is about $20 right now.
"We are seeing a lot more supply and lower prices, which unfortunately causes more use because of price and availability. The prices to get high on heroin today can be compared to crack cocaine prices in that drug's prime."
Heroin and pill abuse stir a battle cry in Vermont
By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 10:38 AM MONTPELIER, Vt. - Behind the facade of pristine ski slopes, craft beer, quaint village greens and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Vermont is grappling with painkiller and heroin abuse, a challenge leaders say is fueling crime and wrecking lives and families disproportionately in this tiny state.
Nearly every day, police across Vermont are responding to burglaries or armed robberies investigators believe are prompted by the unslakable hunger for money to feed heroin or pill habits. In many cases, law enforcement officials say, what began as the abuse of prescription drugs has turned into heroin use because it's less expensive and, more recently, easier to get.
Federal statistics rank Vermont among the top 10 states for the abuse of painkillers and illicit drug use other than marijuana - including heroin - for people ages 18 to 25.
Last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin took the unusual step of highlighting the challenge by devoting almost his entire State of the State address to it. He described the drug abuse as "a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface" and called on the Legislature to pass laws encouraging treatment and seek ideas on the best way to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place. He also called for stiffer penalties for traffickers and people who use weapons in drug crimes.
"Anyone who doesn't believe that they have an opiate challenge in their state is in denial," Shumlin said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, the day after his speech. "The point is that if we can shift from our belief, our fantasy, that we can solve all of these problems with law enforcement, we'll go a long way toward solving the problem. This is primarily a public health crisis."
The numbers are startling for a state the size of Vermont, which with 625,000 residents has a population about the same as Nashville, Tenn.:
- It ranks second in the country for the rate of people being treated for opiate abuse, the Vermont Health Department says.
- Over the past five years, the number of serious drug crimes rose 46 percent, according to a study released in October by the Justice Center of the Council on State Governments.
- Last year, the number of heroin overdose deaths almost doubled from nine to 17. And the number of heroin dealers indicted at the request of Vermont's federal prosecutors increased more than five times between 2010 and 2013.
- From 2009 through 2012, the number of calls reporting suspected child abuse or neglect caused by drug abuse to the Vermont Department of Children and Families increased about 38 percent, from 3,293 to 4,555, said Commissioner Dave Yacovone.
Vermonters have no ready explanation for the rise in drug use. The state has consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but in his speech, Shumlin said the underlying cause of addiction was "a lack of hope and opportunity" that he proposed counteracting with good jobs and "the best early education in America."
Many prescription painkillers belong to a class of drugs known as opioids, which also includes heroin, codeine and methadone. Many states are reporting increasing heroin problems as an unintended byproduct of efforts to crack down on painkiller abuse that didn't include treatment of the underlying addiction, said Sherry Green, executive director of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.
"What they are doing, they are shifting to heroin because if they are already addicted to opiates they are going to ... switch to the next best thing, which is heroin," she said.
Shumlin wants the Legislature to expand treatment and recovery programs, and create a system that would allow some addicts to be sent for treatment immediately after their first contacts with law enforcement. He wants to emphasize treatment and search for ways to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place.
He also seeks tougher criminal penalties for drug traffickers and those who use violence during drug crimes. Shumlin, a Democrat, is proposing several million dollars in new spending to help contain the proposals. Shumlin is set to reveal a budget proposal Wednesday that could contain details on how to pay for his proposals.
While Republicans in the Vermont Legislature criticized the governor's speech for not focusing more on jobs and the economy, they agreed with the need to fight the drug threat.
Recovering addict Dustin Machia, 25, attended Shumlin's speech and was singled out by the governor as someone who quickly became addicted after being offered Oxycontin, a powerful opioid, in high school.
"It led me to places I didn't want to go, never thought I'd be," Machia said. He soon became a $500-a-day addict who stole $20,000 worth of equipment from the family farm before his mother introduced him to a local physician who helped him. It took him more than a week to get into a rehabilitation program.
Machia, who lives in the community of Swanton, just a few miles from the Quebec border, managed to overcome his addiction with the help of family, friends and hard work. He said his experience came before heroin reared its head in Vermont and he also hopes the Legislature can find ways to get people the help they need when they ask for it.
"When people are ready, they have to go," Machia said in the governor's office after the speech. "Three weeks, a month, it's too late by then."
The demand for heroin is being quickly filled by out-of-state drug dealers or Vermonters who travel to cities in southern New England or beyond, where heroin can cost $5 to $10 per bag. A couple of years ago they were being sold in Vermont for $40, but now they fetch $15 to $20, said Maj. Glenn Hall, head of the Vermont State Police's criminal division.
"For years now when we do heroin cases, we find pills intermixed," Hall said. "Many times heroin users have pills. When they don't have heroin, they're looking for the pill. When they don't have the pills, they're looking for heroin."
Vermont's public health community is responding. Since 2008, the state has funded 11 recovery centers. But the governor says more can be done.
"All of us, together, will drive toward our goal of recovery by working with one another creatively, relentlessly, and without division," Shumlin said during his speech. "We can do this."
Pain pill addicts use heroin when money gets tight, drug study says
By Katie Wedell
Staff Writer
The over prescription of opioid medications - like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and methadone - is not only leading to increased overdose rates on those drugs, but may be leading to an increase in heroin use, according to a annual statewide study of drug trends.
The Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network's annual report, which compiles information from eight regions in the state, shows that heroin use has increased in the past six months in Dayton and statewide. The report attributes the spike in part to the wide availability of opioid prescriptions, which often lead to addiction and then heroin use when pills become too expensive.
The report, distributed by the Ohio Department of Drug and Alcohol Addiction Services, covers June 2010 through January 2011. The findings are based on interviews with treatment providers, active and recovering drug users, and law enforcement officials as well as crime lab data and coroners' reports. Robert Masone, a pain specialist and president of the Ohio Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, said because two or three OxyContin 80 milligram pills can cost up to $200, many addicts are forced to seek other alternatives when money is scarce.
"When they can get that money, that's what they prefer. When they can't there's always a heroin pusher out there offering them a single dose of heroin," Masone said.
Vie Ross, an outpatient counselor at Project Cure, a methadone clinic in Dayton, said once someone tells pain pill addicts they can get a similar high for a much lower cost with heroin, many switch drugs.
"Nobody ever sets out to be an addict," said Dwight Richard, clinical director of Project Cure. Both Richard and Masone said most heroin users don't want to use illegal drugs and aren't even getting high. They are trying to avoid a painful withdrawal.
"The minute they experience it once, they'll do anything they can to avoid it again," Masone said.
Rogue doctors operating faux pain clinics are fueling the problem, he said. Doctors running so-called "pain clinics" can write several pain prescriptions during a $100 visit. "If (the patient) can sell half those pills they'll make a couple hundred dollars," Masone said.
"Pain prescriptions, between 1994 and now have increased 900 percent," Richard said. "(Opioids) are more widely and freely prescribed."
Recognizing the problem, the medical board has tried to crack down on rogue doctors, but many move before a case can be made. Ohio doctors and pharmacies also have been encouraged to make use of the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS) developed in 2006 to track those trying to doctor shop. But Masone said since the system is voluntary, only about 17 percent of doctors and 23 percent of pharmacists enter information, creating loopholes for abuse.
Users, health care professionals and law enforcement interviewed for the OSAMN report also suggest that the recent increase in heroin use in the region could be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin.
On Aug. 9, 2010, manufacturer Purdue Pharma discontinued the manufacture and distribution of the original OxyContin. The new formula breaks down to a gel instead of a powder when crushed.
The change was meant to make the tablets more difficult to manipulate and abuse as it is difficult to snort or inject the gel.
Abusers have found ways around the new deterrents, however, including freezing the gel and then chopping it or loosening the protective coating with water. Meanwhile the scarcity of the older tablets has made them much more valuable. According to the OSAMN report the street value has more than doubled for the original OxyContin 50 cents to $1 per milligram to as much as $2 per milligram. Richard said it makes sense that many OxyContin users would switch to buying much cheaper heroin after the reformulation.
Increased heroin use also can be attributed to increased availability. With gel caps of powdered heroin, most commonly white or brown powder, available for as little as $7 a piece or three for $20 in Dayton, one participant in the OSAMN study called heroin easier to get than marijuana, widely regarded as the most prevalent drug in the state.
Another study participant said heroin was easier to get than beer and users described driving down some streets in Dayton where free samples are tossed into car windows.
Project Cure is searching for a new location for their clinic because the neighborhood surrounding their current location at 1800 N. James H. McGee Blvd. is such a hotbed of drug activity. Their patients often encounter heroin dealers at the bus stop just steps from the treatment center's door.
Lt. Brian Johns, head of the narcotics unit for the Dayton Police Department, said Dayton has become a destination for heroin, with people traveling long distances to buy it cheap.
"They can drive from their hometown, take it home and use it or resell it and make two or three times the money," Johns said.
Ross attributed the low price point to the fact that there is very little pure heroin in many of the batches found in Dayton. "They are cutting with anything," she said, citing one recent case where a woman was hospitalized after injecting heroin cut with drywall powder.
In April, Gov. Kasich announced that $36 million in federal and local funds would be used to fight prescription drug abuse. Montgomery County will receive $2.73 million from the Department of Education's Rehabilitative Services Administration to use for drug abuse counseling, mental health treatment and vocational job training programs.
House Bill 93, which would require those prescribing opioids to be board certified in pain medicine, fine physicians who don't comply with the licensure, and would delineate how often doctors should check OARRS is up for a committee vote this week in the Senate.
The problem is not Ohio's alone. On April 19, the Obama administration announced a plan to combat prescription drug abuse nationwide through better education for doctors, saying that the number of fatal overdoses has surpassed the number of people who overdosed during both the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the black tar heroin epidemic of the 1970s combined.
Heroin replacing pain pills as drug of choice in some parts of Kentucky
By Beth Musgrave
January 25, 2013 Read more here:
Heroin has rapidly replaced prescription pain pills as the drug of choice in much of Northern Kentucky and Louisville, raising fears that a heroin scourge will soon ravage the state.
In Northern Kentucky, police are finding people passed out in cars at gas stations with needles poking from their arms. In Louisville, initial statistics suggest more than 50 people died of heroin overdoses in 2012.
"We've even found parents in the front seat with kids in the back seat in car seats, wondering what was going on," said Covington police Chief Spike Jones. Police in Louisville and the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati said they began seeing more heroin as early as four years ago, but it was in the last 12 months that heroin surpassed pain pills as the preferred drug of addicts. The resurgence of the dangerous street drug, which rose to prominence in the 1970s, has prompted one state lawmaker to draft a bill that would stiffen penalties for heroin traffickers and make it possible for prosecutors to charge dealers with murder if a person overdoses on heroin.
Concerned about the increased use of heroin, Attorney General Jack Conway launched public service announcements about heroin addiction this month and now incorporates heroin into his talks to teenagers about the dangers of prescription pill abuse.
Heroin has not found much of a toe-hold yet in Lexington and it's still rare in Eastern and Western Kentucky, but drug treatment counselors and police say they are beginning to see heroin abuse pop up across Kentucky.
"We are seeing more of it all over the state," Conway said.
If something isn't done soon, heroin addiction will spread statewide, said state Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate. She plans to file her proposed heroin legislation during the first week in February, when lawmakers return to Frankfort for the 2013 General Assembly.
"This is not just a Northern Kentucky problem," Stine said. "If we don't stop it now, the waters are going to be flowing over."
In Louisville, arrests for heroin possession have skyrocketed since 2008, Louisville Metro Police Department statistics show. Police logged 32 heroin-related arrests in 2008 but made 676 arrests in the first 11 months of 2012.
Overdoses involving heroin have also climbed. In 2009, the state medical examiner's office conducted no autopsies on heroin-related overdose victims in Kentucky. In 2011, there were 22.
In Louisville alone, there were believed to be 54 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2012, initial statistics show.
Police thought crack cocaine - which surfaced in the 1990s - took top honors as the worst and most addictive street drug available. Heroin is worse, said Jones, the Covington police chief.
"The heroin on the street now is so much more powerful than it was in the 1970s," Jones said. "I can tell you with confidence that what we are seeing with heroin, crack had nothing on."
How heroin spread
A key driver behind the uptick in heroin abuse was the reformulation of two widely abused prescription pain drugs, making them harder to crush and snort, said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Drug manufacturers reformulated OxyContin in 2010 and Opana in 2011. The number of heroin samples analyzed by the Kentucky State Police crime lab has increased 211 percent since 2010. There were 433 samples analyzed in 2010, but that jumped to 1,349 samples last year.
"Any substance that's abused is influenced by four things: price, availability, perception of risk and public perception. When any of those four things change, so does how the substance is used," Ingram said.
Aside from pain pill reformulations, law enforcement has successfully cracked down on the flow of prescription pills into Kentucky from Florida and other southern states. Meanwhile, the legislature passed House Bill 1 last year, which put in place regulations to crack down on unscrupulous doctors and to make it more difficult for drug abusers to obtain prescription drugs.
But the uptick in heroin use started before House Bill 1 took effect, Ingram said.
Price is also driving the switch to heroin, police said.
Prescription pills are relatively expensive - anywhere from $40 to $100 per pill. An addict at the end stages of an opiate addiction will need to spend at least $600 a day on prescription pills just to function. The same heroin high would probably cost about $100, police said.
Even though Northern Kentucky and Louisville show the most arrests and seizures of heroin, those are not the only places heroin abusers live, police said. Jones and Bill Mark, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, said they are increasingly finding more people who buy heroin in Northern Kentucky and then leave. Louisville police also report more "drug tourists" in the city.
Sherelle Roberts, a spokeswoman for Lexington police, said few heroin-related arrests or seizures have been made, but the number of heroin addicts is clearly on the rise.
"We are averaging about 12 overdose calls a month," Roberts said.
Heroin is still rare in much of Eastern Kentucky, where prescription pills and methamphetamine remain the drugs of choice, said Dan Smoot, law enforcement director of Operation UNITE, a 32-county drug task force.
Heroin habit hard to stop
Police and drug addiction specialists said heroin use is spreading among all age groups and all economic classes. Abusers are not the "junkies in an alley that you remember seeing in the 1970s," Ingram said.
Louisville Metro Police Lt. J.T. Duncan said his department has interviewed a 13-year-old heroin addict. In Northern Kentucky, heroin use has moved into wealthy suburbs and rural areas alike, Mark said.
"I know of two 16-year-olds who overdosed in Kenton County," Mark said. Mac McArthur, executive director of Transitions Inc., said 90 percent of the company's drug treatment facilities in Northern Kentucky are filled by heroin addicts. There is a minimum six-month waiting list to get one of the company's 186 beds in the region.
"Our average age is between 18 and 25," McArthur said.
McArthur and other experts said the cravings created by heroin are much worse than those from prescription pain pills.
"Once you start heroin, it's very, very hard to stop," Duncan said.
Stine, the state lawmaker, said she also would like to see the state encourage more options for drug treatment. Some privately run drug treatment centers - such as the Healing Place in Louisville - have great outcomes and are able to provide treatment at relatively low costs, she said. Finding ways to replicate that model, which might ease a tremendous shortfall in drug treatment options in the state, should be explored, Stine said.
"You can't put handcuffs on addiction," Jones said. "It just doesn't work. There is a role for law enforcement in this. But we have to be advocates for treatment. We have to be advocates for education. It's a three-legged stool."
Law enforcement sees rise of pills-to-heroin trend
The Washington Post
Thursday, November 14, 2013
On a gloomy Friday night in the jail of northern Virginia's Prince William County, a 36-year-old woman took a deep breath and pondered how she ended up in a windowless cinder-block room. She had been an elite middle school math teacher, married, with two children and a house in nearby Stafford County. But her gradual progression from occasional cocaine use to prescription pain pill abuse to full-blown heroin addiction destroyed her life, she said. "It took away everything and everybody I ever loved or cared about. My career, my home, my children - you name it, it's gone." She faces serious legal troubles and a lifetime of addiction treatment.
When the Prince William police decided this summer to target dealers of prescription pills, the stereotypical suburban drug, they saw something even more troubling: Many residents had switched to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get. So officers expanded the investigation's scope to heroin, and Tuesday they rounded up 31 alleged dealers of pills or heroin and filed charges against 10 more in a daylong sweep.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are finding the same pills-to-heroin trend. In June, Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified before Congress that prescription drug abuse was rapidly rising, behind only marijuana in illicit use, and that "some users of prescription opiates turn to heroin, a much-cheaper opiate that provides a similar 'high.' "
"This cycle has been confirmed by police agencies throughout the country, who are now reporting an increase in heroin use by teens and young adults who began their cycle of abuse with prescription opiates," Rannazzisi said.
The police in Baltimore, Chicago, Michigan, Washington state and the suburbs of Philadelphia have all reached the same conclusion. Measures to reduce prescription drug abuse - by adjusting the chemistry of such pills as oxycodone to make them less desirable or through increased penalties - have pushed addicts to heroin.
"Sadly, prescription pills have become the staging area and connection between alcohol or marijuana and heroin and other drugs," said Joe Peters, senior executive deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania.
The sweep in Prince William County included search warrants, including one for the Bristow, Va. home of a 21-year-old alleged heroin dealer whose child, 2 years old, was inside. Marijuana smoke billowed out, and heroin paraphernalia was in plain view. Officers also searched the Manassas home of a 68-year-old alleged pill merchant, who police said had been dealing thousands of dollars' worth of pills every week for 10 years.
Prince William police believe that three recent fatal overdoses were from heroin, although toxicology tests aren't complete. "It's everywhere, not just here," said Dave Ehrhardt, a veteran Prince William street crimes detective. "Everyone who's into doping has a different story of how they became addicted. But the ending is always the same."
One 32-year-old woman from Manassas, Va. reflects the human toll. She started taking oxycodone, which cost $80 for an 80-milligram dose, because, she said, "I had a doctor prescribing anything I wanted." The doctor was later arrested, but by then the woman had switched from "oxy" to "roxy," or roxicodone, a similar opiate that was more readily available on the street.
She spent her days working just enough to make the money to get drugs.
She said she moved from pain pills, which she crushed and snorted, to smoking crack for a time. Then she went back to roxicodone. But "you can't afford $80 for a pill," she said. "That's why the dope 1/8 heroin 3/8 came in. Plus, you couldn't get the oxys anymore" because of police crackdowns, "so people just started to go to dope."
The cost still was prohibitive. "I wiped out my family business," she said. She is now taking suboxone, a drug similar to methadone, to try to ease off heroin and helping police find dealers in Prince William.
On a recent night, finding dealers of pills or heroin was no problem for the county's narcotics squad. Inside a detective's car in a busy parking lot, a hidden transmitter recorded a dealer offering far more weight and variety of drugs than the undercover detective could afford - and he had brought plenty of money. Elsewhere on the same night, a heroin dealer was filmed walking up to an informant's car and selling numerous small bags of the powder.
The police dubbed the investigation "Operation Blue Dragon" - the blue for the color of many pain pills, the dragon indicating heroin. "Pills and heroin go hand in hand," said Detective Caillen Smith, who helped oversee the operation. "It's the same type of addiction - an opiate addiction."
He said illicit dealers of pain pills typically charge $1 per milligram, or $30 for a 30-milligram pill, of which several are required by addicts over the course of a day. Heroin costs $20 to $25 for one-tenth of a gram, which lasts longer.
In the past, the stigma of using heroin stopped some from making the leap, Sgt. Matt McCauley said. But an opiate addiction makes it "a real easy transition to get over that stigma, that hurdle, to get into heroin. These are not what people think of as heroin junkies. But the reality is it's all around us."
The Prince William middle school teacher who lived in Stafford met all the stereotypes of a happy suburban homemaker, although she also had the hidden stresses of family health crises and marital problems. Overall, though, most of the 2000s were "the best years of my life. I was an elite math teacher, very highly respected."
She said things changed after her marriage collapsed and she began dating a cocaine dealer. She said he switched his product to prescription pills, such as Xanax and roxicodone, because they were more profitable. That's where she got her start.
In 2010, after she'd broken up with him, she found a doctor in Fairfax County who would prescribe pain pills covered by her insurance. But the doctor required her to pay cash for her office visits. Ehrhardt said this was a way for doctors to fly under the investigators' radar.
She popped the expensive pills, then later crushed and injected them three or four times a day. Later, when that process of office visits and insurance became too difficult, she switched to heroin. At her school, she was suspected of using drugs and was closely monitored, but she said she lied and kept working until finally her boyfriend's arrest dragged her down, too.
A web of similar stories radiated from each house swarmed by tactical officers and detectives on Tuesday. An alleged dealer in Bristow, Va. is suspected of providing the heroin used in a recent nonfatal overdose. Neighbors at some of the busts said they'd been complaining about the obvious drug-dealing for years; police said they had more complaints than they could handle. As a SWAT team approached the Bristow house, they came across a parked car with two men smoking marijuana inside. Two more arrests.
From the house at a busy intersection, Ehrhardt said, 68-year-old Wayne Houston had been selling 300 to 400 prescription pills a week for years, at $35 to $45 per pill, and an informant told police that he had been active for 10 years. Houston watched from a squad car as detectives removed his safe, cracked it open and found numerous bottles of prescription drugs. He was charged with four felony counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
White suburbanites going from pain pills to heroin Experts say drugs are similar, and addicts will switch when one becomes unavailable
September 26, 2011|By Robert McCoppin, Tribune reporter
Hurt in a car crash, a Geneva woman got hooked on the painkiller Vicodin. When one doctor stopped prescribing it, she got it from others and was sneaking around so much that her husband thought she was cheating, said her counselor, Jake Epperly.
The face of drug addiction, experts say, is increasingly white, suburban and upper-middle class. New users include older adults seeking relief from pain and teens looking for a high.
The resulting abuse of prescription medications represents the greatest epidemic in drug abuse since crack cocaine ravaged cities in the 1980s and 1990s, said Epperly, owner of New Hope Recovery Center in Chicago and Geneva.
Statistics tend to back him up. Deaths from prescription drugs tripled nationwide from 2000 to 2008 and exceeded deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug deaths reached an all-time high of almost 37,500 in 2009, the tipping point in an ongoing trend reported by the Los Angeles Times: For the first time, drugs killed more people in this country than car crashes.
In Illinois, drug deaths first outnumbered traffic fatalities in 2006, when 1,410 drug-related cases were reported, according to the CDC.
As drug abuse has increased in the Chicago area, none of the traditional street drugs has gone away. Instead, heroin use has spread from the city to the surrounding counties, according to a 1998-2008 Roosevelt University study last year.
In Lake County, for example, researchers found that heroin deaths rose 130 percent from 2000 to 2009. In McHenry County, such deaths increased by 150 percent over one three-year period.
In Cook County, the number of deaths actually decreased during the decade leading up to 2008 with one notable exception, which underscores the spread of the drug: Heroin-related deaths increased 40 percent among white women, Roosevelt researchers reported.
Heroin and prescription painkiller abuse is intertwined, experts say. The two are similar enough that addicts who run out of one may take the other as a substitute.
Users often start on prescription meds because they are easily available and considered safe. Once hooked, they may move on to heroin, which is now easier to try because it's pure enough to snort or smoke rather than inject, Epperly said. Both types of drugs have something else in common: They are depressants that kill by suppressing breathing, particularly when mixed with alcohol or other downers.
And the most common way teens get started on prescription pills, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, is through the medicine cabinet at home.
Though the war on illegal drugs has been hotly debated in recent months, prescription drug abuse involves a product that is legal but controlled - and deadly when misused.
The DEA estimates that 1 in 6 people younger than 20 has tried prescription drugs to get high.
Jack Riley, special agent in charge of the DEA's Chicago division, said he's alarmed that drug cartels are starting to supply street gangs with prescription drugs. And the gangs are sending members to doctors to fake ailments and get prescriptions.
"It'll take educators, parents and law enforcement to go after people involved in prescription drug abuse - just like we're going after the Mexican drug cartels - because they're doing that much damage," Riley said.
Special delivery
A drug dealer is no longer someone standing on a street corner, law enforcement officials say. Instead, he or she may be, intentionally or unwittingly, a doctor or pharmacist, even a package delivery driver.
In June, an Aurora man pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally deliver drugs through a package delivery company. Prosecutors said Steven Immergluck, 35, a sales representative, and others recruited a pharmacy and doctors to write and fill prescriptions for an Internet drug provider. They then delivered the goods nationwide to customers' homes.
Through just one of multiple schemes, prosecutors alleged, the defendants delivered 35,000 packages and made almost $500,000.
Similarly, a Calumet Park man was charged this month with illegally diverting the painkiller hydrocodone from the Skokie pharmacy where he worked, the DEA reported. Earl Newsome, 57, is accused of selling some 700,000 pills with an estimated street value of up to $7 million.
Among users, Bill Stelcher, a retail salesman from Hoffman Estates, knows firsthand how prescription drugs can ruin a life.
Wracked with pain from a bad back, Stelcher, 44, had surgery in 2000. For three years, he lived with excruciating pain and took a succession of painkillers, including Vicodin and Oxycontin.
He was taking 30 to 40 pills a day and stayed in bed most of the time, but a pain management clinic kept renewing his prescription, he said. Follow-up surgery finally fixed his back, but by that time he was hooked, he said.
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