The Heroin Wars: Drug Use Surges In East — And Beyond

The New York Times reports that heroin use is surging in small towns and cities around New England, driven in part by restrictions on doctors prescribing painkillers (and pill that are harder to crush and snort) coupled with relatively easy access to cheap heroin:

From quaint fishing villages on the Maine coast to the interior of the Great North Woods extending across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, officials report a sharp rise in the availability of the crystalline powder and in overdoses and deaths attributed to it. “It’s easier to get heroin in some of these places than it is to get a UPS delivery,” said Dr. Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist here...Heroin killed 21 people in Maine last year, three times as many as in 2011, according to the state’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. New Hampshire recorded 40 deaths from heroin overdoses last year, up from just 7 a decade ago. In Vermont, the Health Department reported that 914 people were treated for heroin abuse last year, up from 654 the year before, an increase of almost 40 percent.

Heroin is all over the news these days, with the tragic death of 31-year-old "Glee" star Cory Monteith, who authorities say overdosed on heroin and alcohol.

And WBUR's On Point aired an excellent segment yesterday on heroin's "new reach," including this riveting exchange between Rock Star Raven, a 32-year-old woman from New York who actually spoke with host Tom Ashbrook on her way to score some heroin. From the transcript:

RAVEN: I've worked at a bank for a while now and it doesn't really discriminate. And it’s very, very difficult to stop and you can continue to be successful, to some degree, while continuing that lifestyle and it's very difficult to get off. I agree Suboxone can be extremely helpful, however if you don’t continue using it responsibly you can continue your problem.
TOM: Raven, let me be very clear, you’re on the way to pick up heroin right now?
RAVEN: That is correct.

TOM: Are you high now? Are you off of it?
RAVEN: No,  I am not high right now — which is why I am going to pick up right now.
TOM: And what does it cost?
RAVEN: It costs about $150 for a gram.
TOM: And is a gram like a night of partying? Or a day? I have no idea?
RAVEN: It would be about a day, yeah. So you know the cheapness starts at the beginning and then once your in it and it’s no longer just an every now and then thing, you know the cost becomes a significant problem.
TOM: Are you still a banker Raven?
RAVEN: Yes I am.
TOM: And your employer doesn't know I guess.
RAVEN: No, no they do not.
TOM: So what’s your plan? I mean, the hook is in pretty deep it sounds like.
RAVEN: Yeah, it’s difficult. The plan is always to stop and once you stop then you, you’re like, “Oh, maybe I am okay again,” and it just completely draws you back. Your brain chemistry definitely changes. And you’re never the same again. But you know my plan is to stop. It’s not a sustainable life.

Another caller, Stan from Florence, S.C., lost his 27-year-old son last winter to a heroin overdose:

STAN: I buried my son in December of last year from an overdose of heroin. He died in Charleston, S.C.. He was at a known heroin dealer’s address. We returned with the police to see where he died and of course the police didn't do anything. We smelled marijuana when we came in and then I show them the residence where my son told me he had purchased heroin from and they said they would see what they could do. I would have thought they would have done something immediately. But the entire city is flooded with the drug and it is cheaper than oxycodone and people that take pain pills end up taking heroin because it’s cheaper and more available.
TOM: Stan, I am so sorry for your family. That’s as bad as it gets. Did you see it coming? Did you know that your son was on heroin?
STAN: I knew he had used on and off, but I had no idea he was an addict. He had to live with us for about four weeks before he died. He seemed very functional and that he was okay. But I could have been totally blind to him maintaining a habit. You know something, maybe I just didn’t understand? I don’t know. But I missed it. And there’s a lot of it out there and it’s killing a lot of people.

This program aired on July 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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