Drug treatment officials in San Diego County recently reported that the use of heroin by young adults has more than tripled since 2006. According to Susan Bower, director of San Diego County Alcohol and Drug Services, the increase in heroin use is “scary.” Admissions for heroin addiction now account for nearly one in five of all treatment admissions at facilities operated by the county.
Many of the addicts seeking treatment have been identified as young men who are switching to heroin as a cheaper alternative to OxyContin. The black market demand for OxyContin has caused the price to rise to as much as $80 for an 80mg tablet, making heroin an cheaper alternative for addicts despite its deadly reputation.
This is the first time in several decades that heroin abuse and addiction has become an issue in San Diego County. Experts attribute the change to prescription drugs becoming a new gateway to heroin.
Speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Bower said that OxyContin abusers find that their resistance to the prescription painkiller increases and they need more of the drug to achieve the same high. Since heroin is also opiate-based, many OxyContin abusers decide to transition to heroin – often with deadly results.
The San Diego Alcohol and Drug Services agency admits more than 12,000 people annually for treatment. Over the past five years, the number of heroin users admitted for county-funded treatment has increase by 57 percent; this is a 200 percent increase among young people aged 18 to 24 years.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner has also seen an increase in the number of deaths attributed to heroin overdose. In 2010, there were 71 heroin deaths in the county. Heroin was the most common drug blamed for drug overdose deaths in people under 30, with 23 of the dead being under 30 and 7 being under 18 years of age. According to Dr. Jonathan Lucas of the Medical Examiner’s office, the young people who are dying from heroin are not typical addicts who have decades of substance abuse behind them. The majority of these young heroin users had no other medical problems and their period of heroin use was relatively short.
Although the figures provided by San Diego County do not include people seeking treatment at private opiate treatment facilities and heroin users who have not sought help for their addiction, they are a good indication of the extent of the heroin problem.