Pubdate: Tue, 04 Feb 2014
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Matt Pearce and Tina Susman
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Actor Hoffman's Death Brings Greater Attention to U.S. Data Showing a 
Nearly 100% Increase in Five Years.

NEW YORK - The death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman 
underscores a surge in heroin use reminiscent of the 1970s and early '80s.

More than 660,000 Americans used heroin in 2012, health officials say 
- - nearly double the number from five years earlier - and users tend 
to be more affluent than before, living in the suburbs and rural 
areas rather than the inner city.

"It's reached epidemic proportions here in the United States," said 
Rusty Payne, a Washington, D.C.based spokesman for the Drug 
Enforcement Administration.

Mexican cartels are pushing ever-larger amounts of heroin across the 
Southwestern border, sometimes hidden in fake coconuts, bananas and 
lollipops, officials said.

Heroin has flooded the Northeast and reached a large market of 
American pain-pill addicts seeking a less-expensive high. Overdoses 
and emergency room visits have skyrocketed across the country, 
officials say, and more are dying from a drug whose purity can be 
hard to judge.

Los Angeles traditionally was the final destination for Mexico's 
trade, but in recent years that distribution has spread across the 
United States, said Sarah Pullen, a special agent in the DEA's Los 
Angeles office.

"Increasingly, heroin addicts are former prescription drug abusers," 
Pullen said. "They become hooked on painkillers and move over to 
heroin because it is available for far cheaper."

Heroin users in L.A. can get a hit for as little as $8 to $10, 
officials say, so they can get high several times for what they would 
pay for a single, pricier pain pill.

Increasingly lethal

The consequences have been increasingly lethal. In 2010 - the latest 
year such data were available - heroin overdoses killed more than 
3,000 people across the U.S., a 45% increase since 2006, according to the DEA.

Hoffman's death at age 46 comes a week after Pennsylvania officials 
announced that a batch of heroin spiked with fentanyl had killed at 
least 22 people in January.

Spiked heroin also has killed at least 37 people in Maryland since 
September, chief medical examiner Dr. David Fowler said.

Although initial autopsy results on Hoffman are pending, the scene 
from the actor's New York apartment offered a sad tableaux probably 
familiar to emergency responders.

Hoffman was found dead with a needle in his arm. In his apartment 
were dozens of glassine packets, some containing powder, law 
enforcement officials said. Some packets were stamped Ace of Spades, 
marking them as a brand of heroin. Hoffman had battled addiction for years.

"Glee" star Cory Monteith, 31, also struggled with drugs. He died in 
a British Columbia hotel room in July after taking a combination of 
heroin, alcohol, morphine and codeine.

Heroin was a drug of choice for celebrities and inner-city addicts 
alike in the 1970s, often with fatal consequences. But its popularity 
declined in the 1980s as the HIV/AIDS crisis brought worries of 
infection-carrying needles. Crack cocaine supplanted heroin as a 
cheap, powerful option for poorer users.

Now, experts say, heroin is back. Americans' widespread abuse of 
prescription drugs has created a new market for the opiate, which 
gives users a powerful euphoria similar to that of pain pills.

"This last year, we've seen a big uptick in heroin use. It's become 
rapidly very popular," said Theodore J. Cicero, a professor of 
neuropharmacology at Washington University in St. Louis, who has been 
studying national drug treatment rates for seven years. "But now it's 
becoming a rural and suburban issue rather than an urban issue."

Most states had an increase in heroin patients from 2000 to 2010, 
according to federal statistics. The drug was particularly accessible 
in the Northeast, where officials say New York City serves as the 
transit point for heroin coming via road from the Southwest, via air 
from overseas and via ship from South America.

A better drug deal

In New York, one oxycodone pill on the street costs about $30 and is 
good for just one hit. (Oxycodone is an ingredient derived from 
opium; in pill form, it's marketed as OxyContin.) For about the same 
price, buyers can get six glassines of heroin, according to Erin 
Mulvey, another DEA spokeswoman in New York.

"Six hits and six highs, versus one high for oxycodone," Mulvey said.

The DEA's Payne added: "Who would have ever thought in this country 
it would be cheaper to buy heroin than pills and obtain them more 
easily? That is the reality we're facing."

Heroin has such a grip on the Northeast that Vermont's governor 
dedicated his State of the State address to fighting the drug. The 
state saw a 250% increase in patients receiving treatment for heroin 
use since 2000.

"What started as an OxyContin and prescription drug addiction problem 
in Vermont has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis," Vermont 
Gov. Peter Shumlin said in January. The greatest heroin treatment 
increase came in the last year, he said.

80 teen addicts

In the Vermont town of St. Albans, population 6,894, Fred Holmes was 
treating about 80 teenage opiate addicts in his pediatric practice 
when he retired last year. Many of the teenagers had started out as 
OxyContin addicts before the drug got too expensive, which is when 
they switched to heroin, he said.

"There's no socioeconomic discrimination in the world of addiction," 
Holmes said. "Doesn't matter if your father's an attorney and you 
have a house on the hill."

That message resonates with Aram Homampour, 46, who abused alcohol, 
Xanax and cocaine before he started smoking heroin. His addiction 
took him to rock bottom when he was about 34, he said.

"Bottom line, it presents your consciousness with another reality 
that at times is so amazing that if you have the power to visit it 
every day without destroying your life, you would," said Homampour, 
who has been clean for nine years and is the chief operating officer 
of the Malibu Beach Recovery Center. "By the time that you figure out 
it does destroy your life, you've lost the power of choice."

Grieving parents have lost more than choice.

Bob Lutz, 73, a retired police officer from St. Francis, Wis., is one 
of them. His daughter, Cassandra, 26, died of an overdose after 
attending a concert in March, and an acquaintance has been charged 
with injecting her with heroin.

"Her life has got to mean something, and all of these people who are 
doing this heroin stuff, they're not going to quit unless somebody 
someplace along the line puts a penalty on it big enough that they're 
going to stop," Lutz said. "And until they do that, it's going to get 
worse, and worse, and worse. It's as simple as that."
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