Pubdate: Wed, 04 Jul 2012
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The London Free Press
Author: Randy Richmond
Bookmark: (Heroin)


With easy-to-abuse painkiller pills off the market, London addicts 
are turning to a more dangerous drug, largely avoided in this city in 
the past -- heroin.

"We were never a heroin town before," addiction worker Karen Burton 
said. "Now, we are seeing heroin coming into town."

Even more frightening, more addicts seem to be becoming "polydrug 
users," using heroin with other drugs and increasing the risks of 
overdoses and health problems, she said.

"The overdoses that will come with the heroin will be much worse that 
we've ever seen," she predicted.

Burton is also hearing from her clients that dealers are dropping the 
price of heroin from $40 a point (1/10 of a gram) to $20, in a bid to 
attract business in the city.

The painkiller pills were notoriously difficult to kick, but heroin 
is a whole new game that will make the pill withdrawal seem easy, she added.

"When you are trying to get off heroin, you will dream of pill sickness."

Burton is the needle and syringe program co-ordinator with the 
Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, which gave out 1.3 million needles in 
2010 to about 3,100 clients.

Other social service agencies contacted for this story referred 
questions to Burton because HIV Connection has a direct relationship 
with thousands of intravenous drug abusers.

There's always been a small fringe of heroin users in London, 
addiction counsellors have told The Free Press.

But Oxycontin held sway as the most popular illegal drug in London, 
crushed, then snorted or injected to produce a powerful high from the 
chemical oxycodone.

In March, the makers of Oxycontin, Purdue Pharma, introduced OxyNEO 
into Canada. The OxyNEO tablets are harder to crush and when heated 
and dissolved in water turn into an unusable gel.

That's forced addicts in London to turn to heroin, and as well, in 
larger numbers, to hydromorphone, a synthetic opioid that provides a 
high similar to heroin, and crystal meth.

"I realize the drug companies are trying to do the right thing. It 
has backfired on our clients. This is all coinciding with OxyNEO," Burton said.

Some clients are combining heroin and crystal meth, or heroin and 
cocaine, combinations that intensify the dangers of overdoses.

"The two together is just an explosion waiting to happen," Burton 
said. "The other trouble with heroin . . . is you have no idea what 
you're getting. You don't know the purity of what you are getting 
because it's a powder. At least with a pill, you knew what you were getting."

On drug forums, Oxy addicts share the complicated methods of turning 
OxyNEO tablets into powder. It takes several steps of microwaving, 
freezing and scraping the tablets.

Social service agencies in London have issued a warning to drug users 
that breaking down OxyNEO can cause immediate health problems and a 
quick death.

Snorted, the crushed OxyNEO powder can turn to gel in the nose and 
throat, causing death by suffocation, the warning notes. Injected, 
the powder has solidified in people's veins.

Only a small number of clients at the needle exchange report trying 
to break down OxyNEO, Burton said. There's no market for the new 
tablets, forcing dealers to sell something else.

"Nobody's buying it," she said. "It is very difficult to break down 
and depending on how you do it, it becomes even more dangerous. If 
you have OxyNEOS in your pocket now to sell, you'll still have them 
in a month or two."

There are other signs heroin may be filling the gap. Since May, 
London police have seized about $180,000 in heroin bound for London. 
It's not clear if the drug was to be distributed here or elsewhere.

A few years ago, there'd be no question, Burton said. "Heroin always 
went somewhere else."
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