A month ago we reported that cocaine production out of Latin America had dropped to a new 21st century low. Whether that move was supply or demand-driven was unclear, just as it is unclear if it was due to the "scarcity" of cocaine and other more expensive drugs that forced drug-addicts to shift to other narcotics, but what is clear is that WSJ reports, "Heroin use in the U.S. is soaring, especially in rural areas, amid ample supply and a shift away from costlier prescription narcotics that are becoming tougher to acquire. The number of people who say they have used heroin in the past year jumped 53.5% to 620,000 between 2002 to 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. There were 3,094 overdose deaths in 2010, a 55% increase from 2000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
The heroin scourge has been driven largely by a law-enforcement crackdown on illicit use of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and drug-company reformulations that make the pills harder to crush and snort, drug officials say. That has pushed those who were addicted to the pills to turn to heroin, which is cheaper and more plentiful.
"Basically, you have a generation of ready-made heroin addicts," said Matthew Barnes, special agent in charge of the DEA's Seattle division.
Given the growing supply, dealers have flooded local markets with heroin. Former users interviewed in Ellensburg, who didn't want to be identified, said dealers promoted the drug aggressively. A 21-year-old recovering addict said she made the switch from pain pills to heroin after her dealer one day held out both options in his hands and encouraged her to choose the cheaper one.
A former Marine who lives in Ellensburg said he switched to heroin after getting hooked on oxycodone prescribed to him for an injury suffered while serving overseas. "To me, it was identical," said the 28-year-old. "It's mind-numbing, an instant antidepressant." He was eventually arrested for writing bad checks; if he successfully completes drug treatment, charges will be dropped.
Drug experts say the heroin sold today is generally purer and thereby more potent than the varieties prevalent in past decades, increasing the risk of overdose. Moreover, the purity can vary enormously from one batch to the next. A baggie "may be 15% pure one day, and the next day it's 60%," said Skip Holbrook, the police chief in Huntington, W.Va., which sits in an area of Appalachia where heroin is spreading. "It's like playing Russian roulette."
In contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, when heroin ravaged inner-city neighborhoods, this time it is taking hold in rural places that are often unprepared to deal with the fallout, a trend noted in this year's White House National Drug Control Strategy report. Many lack addiction-treatment options. According to data analyzed by the Maine Rural Health Research Center, 93% of facilities nationwide with treatment programs for opioids, a class of pain-relief drugs including heroin, are located in metropolitan areas.
Unfortunately, with a "New Normal" economy that has seen youth unemployment soar to unprecedented highs, no pun intended, not only in Greece and Europe, but the US as well, we expect the drug problem to only get worse.