Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jul 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Monica Vaughan


Health care providers say a surge in heroin use in Northern 
California is linked to the abuse of prescription opiate pain 
medications, following a nationwide trend.

Methamphetamine is still the drug of choice of people in need of 
assistance with substance abuse in Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties, 
but "it is shifting and shifting very quickly towards opiates," 
according to Jen Carvalho, CEO of Skyway House, a recovery 
organization based in Chico.

The number of heroin users nationally increased by more than 150 
percent from 2007-13, and most new heroin users abused prescription 
pain medications before switching to the drug, according to recently 
released findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The path from using prescribed pain management medications, such as 
Oxycontin, Opana or Vicodin, to shooting up or smoking heroin may 
seem like a leap, but it does happen, and "it's a huge trend," local 
health care providers said.

"Nobody wakes up one day and says, 'I think I'm going to take 
heroin.' There are gateway drugs," said Ed Anderson, the director of 
Pathways, a recovery organization in Marysville.

On the streets of Yuba-Sutter, Oxycontin is selling anywhere from 
$10-$20 a tablet, while heroin is going for $20 for a tenth of gram, 
which lasts longer and is easier to get, according to antidrug task 
force NET-5 Commander Martin Horan. He's seen an increase in black 
tar heroin in the last two to three years.

Addiction to opiates grows quickly as a user's body adjusts and 
physical tolerance to the medication builds, Carvalho said.

That can happen whether the user is a 65-year-old managing pain after 
a surgery or a teenager experimenting with a couple of Vicodin.

As tolerance to the medication builds, so does the price of the addiction.

"Prescription medication is difficult to get, and it's expensive. 
Heroin is easier to get, and it's inexpensive," Carvalho said.

"It's very easy for a dealer who is selling illicit prescription 
drugs to say, 'I don't have Vicodin today, but I do have a little bit 
of heroin.'"

For heroin demand to dwindle, there needs to be better restrictions 
to rein in the over-prescribing of opiates, Horan said.

Heroin-related medical emergencies and death rates have also 
skyrocketed, accorded to state and nationwide health agencies tracking trends.

Last year, about 1,300 young adults were seen in emergency rooms for 
heroin poisoning in California, more than six times seen in 2005, 
according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

The number of people who died from heroin overdose nationally nearly 
quadrupled between 2002 and 2013 and doubled between 2011 and 2013, 
according to the CDC.

Skyway House and Pathways are both accredited by the Commission on 
Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities that offers residential, 
outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment programs.
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