Heroin, one of the deadliest and most addictive in the world, appears to be gaining popularity—particularly in smaller cities and towns in New England. Officials have reported a notable increase in availability, overdoses, and deaths related to heroin abuse in recent months.
According to the New York Times, the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services reported 21 deaths from heroin overdoses in the state in 2011—a number that tripled from those reported just the year before. In New Hampshire, the number of heroin-related deaths increased dramatically in the last decade, with the 40 reported deaths last year compared to the seven ten years ago. Vermont officials calculated a total of 914 heroin-related hospital treatments last year, up by 269 patients from 2010.
“We had a bad epidemic, and now we’re having a worse epidemic,” said Dr. Mark Publicker, resident of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine. “I’m treating 21-, 22-year-old pregnant women with intravenous heroin addiction.”
The reasons attributed to the dangerous upswing in heroin usage in the region are varying. Tightened restrictions on prescribed painkillers, combined with changes to prescription drugs that make them harder to crush and snort, may be pushing prescription pill addicts to obtain heroin—a drug that is now easier and cheaper to procure. Some say that the reason behind the increase is simple supply and demand—the law enforcement in the more rural regions is looser than in big cities, and people are willing to pay much more money for the drug, lending larger profit margins to dealers.
Heroin is highly addictive, with approximately a quarter of first-time users becoming addicts. The potency of heroin varies widely, which contributes significantly to the danger of the drug. Even experienced users, consuming their “normal” dose, could easily overdose should that particular batch be purer and more potent than what they are used to. Combined with the possible increase in infection due to shared needles and the heavier demands placed on state-funded institutions governing health, welfare, and law enforcement, the rising popularity of heroin in New England has grave implications. Stated Rutland, Vermont police Captain Scott, Tucker, “heroin is our biggest problem right now.