A few weeks ago I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a while. She recalled a talk I gave about 6 years ago and thanked me again for sounding the alarm. I had warned of the rise in heroin use and abuse. We were seeing an increase in deaths secondary to heroin overdose and I wanted to get the word out, increase awareness of the problem, at least, as a first step. Hopefully forewarned would be forearmed. We were also seeing this increase in heroin deaths in an unusual population, suburban youth. Typically, up to that time, heroin deaths were in people who were addicted and their heroin use got interrupted, e.g. from a stint in rehab or jail. Those folks then went back to using, unfortunately at the dose they had been using before their interruption. They didn’t realize that their previous ongoing use afforded them tolerance for their dose. They also didn’t realize that interruption erased their tolerance. Going back to their previous does proved to be a fatal mistake.
However, the overdoses in youth raised several questions. Investigations at that time 6 years ago revealed that there was a purer, stronger heroin available on the street. This new stuff was from Asia and at least 10 times stronger than what had been sold previously. The street price had also become less at the same time. A lower price made it more accessible for young people with disposable money in their pockets. The purity allowed for easier use. It could be snorted with effect instead of the fuss and muss of having to use a needle. It became more genteel, if you will. You could feel less like a junkie putting it up your nose than shooting it into a vein. Also no tracks. It got easier to get that first “taste” as well, no needles. Lastly, that high purity/strength up your nose made addiction all the more likely.
Heroin abuse is still high. Heroin death is still a big problem. There has been no decrease in those 6 years. Both abuse and related deaths still occur too often in our community’s youth, but we still rarely talk about it in polite society. It is still felt by many to be a problem of burned-out street junkies, those other people, but it permeates our cities and our suburbs. We need to tackle it with awareness, education, and treatment. We must demand action from our government officials and talk as community members about what we need to do to help stem the tide. Watching these deaths happen should no longer be an option.