EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

National News

April 6, 2014

'We're all paying:' Heroin spreads misery in US

On a beautiful Sunday last October, Detective Dan Douglas stood in a suburban Minnesota home and looked down at a lifeless 20-year-old — a needle mark in his arm, a syringe in his pocket.

It didn’t take long for Douglas to realize that the man, fresh out of treatment, was his second heroin overdose that day.

“You just drive away and go, ‘Well, here we go again,’” says the veteran cop.

In Butler County, Ohio, heroin overdose calls are so common that the longtime EMS coordinator likens the situation to “coming in and eating breakfast — you just kind of expect it to occur.”

A local rehab facility has a six-month wait. One school recently referred an 11-year-old boy who was shooting up intravenously.

Sheriff Richard Jones has seen crack, methamphetamine and pills plague his southwestern Ohio community but calls heroin a bigger scourge. Children have been forced into foster care because of addicted parents; shoplifting rings have formed to raise money to buy fixes.

“There are so many residual effects,” he says. “And we’re all paying for it.”

Heroin is spreading its misery across America. And communities everywhere are indeed paying. The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman spotlighted the reality that heroin is no longer limited to the back alleys of American life. Once mainly a city phenomenon, the drug has spread — gripping postcard villages in Vermont, middle-class enclaves outside Chicago, the sleek urban core of Portland, Ore., and places in between and beyond.

Cocaine, painkillers and tranquilizers are all used more than heroin, and the latest federal overdose statistics show that in 2010 the vast majority of drug overdose deaths involved pharmaceuticals, with heroin accounting for less than 10 percent. But heroin’s escalation is troubling.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the 45 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths between 2006 and 2010 an “urgent and growing public health crisis.”

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