NATIONAL DRUG FACTS WEEK: Heroin use rises

This week is the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s fourth annual “National Drug Facts Week,” a time for educators and schools to shatter the myths about drug use. During this week, the Mecosta-Osceola Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking and the Pioneer are highlighting the risks associated with drugs and their impact on people in every community. It is the goal of this series to educate readers about dangers of drug use.

MECOSTA COUNTY — Heroin addiction is killing teens and young adults in Michigan and around the country.

“We are seeing a resurgence in heroin use,” said Brian Thiede, Mecosta County chief assistant prosecutor. “It’s highly addictive and more pure than before.”

More than 680 people in Michigan have died from heroin overdoses in 2011, according to Michigan’s Bureau of Substance Abuse and Addiction Services.Drug facts week logo

Heroin, like opium and morphine, is made from the resin of poppy plants, according to the Foundation for a Drug Free World. In the last 20 years the number of people checking into rehab for heroin addiction in Michigan has more than tripled, according to drug and alcohol services information system.

Thiede believes the rise in heroin use to the problem of prescription drug abuse. Heroin enters the brain rapidly and it affects regions of the brain responsible for blocking pain receptors.

“Because people are hooked on the prescription opioid drugs, they are looking for a cheaper way to feel better,” Thiede said. “The crackdown on prescription drug abuse has made it difficult for some of them to have access to painkillers. People addicted to pain killers turn to heroin.”

More people, especially younger generations, have easy access to heroin because it is more prevalent in communities. Oxycontin or other pain killers pills are being sold for $80 apiece on the black market. Most people can’t afford $300 a day so they’re paying $15 to $20 bucks for small amount of heroin. Heroin was a significant problem back in the early 70s, and now the country is starting to try it again, said Rhonda Fish of the Mecosta-Osceola Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.

“Because of the demand heroin has shifted to small communities, the drug is more accessible in rural America,” Fish said.

Heroin has several street names: smack, horse, mud, brown sugar, junk and black tar, she added.

People who are addicted to heroin are usually not the image most people associate with a “junkie.”

“An addict is usually in their teens or early 20s,” Fish said. “Many come from middle- or upper-middle-class suburban families.”

The number of people receiving treatment for heroin abuse in Michigan jumped from 7,857 in 2001 to 10,924 in 2012, according to a Michigan Department of Community Health Bureau of Substance Abuse and Addiction Services report.

Heroin is easier to consume and more affordable than other drugs. Intravenous needle use is no longer the primary form for using heroin. Smoking and sniffing heroin is becoming more common, said Det. Brian Miller, of Big Rapids Department of Public Safety.

“Young users have the illusion that not injecting heroin is safer,” Miller said. “The reality is heroin is just as dangerous and can even be deadly. We recently had a couple of overdoses in this county.”

Overdosing on heroin is easy because the user buying heroin on the street never knows the actual strength of the drug. Users are constantly at risk of an overdose, because toxic ingredients are usually mixed with the drug. The true purity of the drug and its strength is hard to know, Thiede said.

“The problem is one dose could change from the next,” Thiede said. “A dose that a person thinks worked for them one time could end up killing them the next time. It is very dangerous.”

Heroin users build tolerance with each use and after a short time, more heroin is needed to produce the same level of intensity. This results in addiction.

“Heroin is highly addictive and withdrawal is extremely painful,” Fish said. “The drug quickly breaks down the immune system, leaving one sickly.”

Addicts recovering from heroin use can have cravings that can persist years after drug use stops, Fish added.

For more information visit dosomething.org and drugfreeworld.org.

 

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Posted by Lonnie Allen

Lonnie is the Pioneer's city/county reporter. He also coordinates the Gardens and Growers page. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8328 or by e-mail at lallen@pioneergroup.com.

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