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Hooked on Heroin: A Growing Problem

August 09, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

This is the first in a series of articles about the resurgence of heroin use in the Untied States and the impact it is having on our youth. Followup articles discuss the “Good Samaritan” clause in the state’s crime bill and what to do if a friend or family member has overdosed on heroin or a prescription painkiller.

Heroin use in the country has skyrocketed -- up an astonishing 75 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the federal agency that funds the Falmouth Prevention Partnership.  And, during the past five years, seizures of heroin in the U.S. by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have gone up more than 50 percent, from 1,334 lbs. in 2008, to 2,059 lbs. in 2012. 

Much of the increased growth in the use of heroin is among those under age 21 who are middle class or affluent and live in the suburbs or rural areas, primarily outside the central city core.  

A major reason for the increase in heroin use among teens and young adults is the widespread misuse of prescription painkillers. When these are difficult to get, kids switch to heroin.  A recent survey shows that 24 percent of high school students -- more than 5 million kids -- have abused addictive medication such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin; a 33 percent increase in the past five years.

The most popular addictive painkiller used by teens on Cape Cod is Percocet, which has the street name Perc-30s. Depending on supply, one pill can cost $30 to $40 with a daily habit costing more than $100 a day. Increasingly kids are turning to the cheaper, more powerful alternative: heroin. A bag can cost as little as $10!

A Heroin Overdose Can Be Deadly

Opioid overdose is a serious public health problem in Massachusetts:

  • Two people die from opioid overdoses every day in the state.
  • More people are killed by opioid overdoses in the state than by car accidents.

According to a 2011 report, the Boston Metropolitan Area, which includes portions of Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Essex counties, had the highest rate of emergency department visits for “illicit drugs” of any of the 11 major metropolitan regions in the entire country. In fact, Boston is sometimes referred to as “ground zero” for drug-related overdoses. 

Protecting Our Kids

With some of our children starting to use narcotic painkillers as early as 12 years it is important for parents and grandparents to be aware of the dangers of such abuse. Seventy percent of teens who use prescription medications get the drugs from a family member or friend. To help remove this source, the Partnership will be launching a “Lock Your Meds” campaign to inform the community how to safely store and dispose of narcotic drugs.

Knowing that prescription medications are a gateway to heroin use and that the number of deaths from heroin overdose are increasing, it is important that everyone in our community be aware of how to be a good samaritan by calling for help without fear of arrest or punishment.

Additionally, people in our community should know about Nalaxone, a heroin antidote that can rapidly neutralize the drug's effects and save the life of someone who is overdosing.


MedlinePlus: Heroin is an excellent source of information about heroin use. The site provides access to information from reliable sources that are accurate and up-to-date.

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