INLAND EMPIRE – No parent wants to imagine his or her child engaging in recreational drug use, but suburban areas are experiencing a noticeable uptick in heroin usage among teenagers. Once deemed a “city drug,” heroin is now infiltrating suburban hamlets, where more and more children are experimenting with this potentially deadly drug.
Teenagers often aspire to emulate their favorite stars, and recently Hollywood stars have done much to fuel public curiosity about heroin. In 2013, “Glee” star Cory Monteith died of a heroin overdose, and acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman succumbed to his own heroin addiction in early 2014. Over the years, actors River Phoenix and Robert Downey, Jr. as well as musician Kurt Cobain were known to dabble in heroin, and drugs played a role in Cobain and Phoenix’s deaths.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, initiations to heroin have increased 80 percent among 12- to 17-year-olds since 2002. What’s more, young people are dying from heroin in greater numbers than in years past.
In 1999, 198 Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 died from a heroin overdose. By 2009, that figure had risen to 510.
Parents may wonder why teens are turning to heroin. Officials suspect the cost of the drug and its addictive properties are behind the increase. Some feel that prescription drug abuse has fueled the rise in heroin addiction, as adolescents who first experimented with prescription pain pills to get high are now switching to heroin, which is cheaper and more accessible.
Crackdowns on prescriptions for oxycodone and other similar opioid-driven pain pills have driven up the street price of these drugs. Prescription pain pills can cost anywhere from $20 to $60 each or $1 per milligram, figures that quickly add up among addicts who need more and more of the drug to achieve the same high. By contrast, one gram of heroin can cost around $50. Some heroin can cost between $3 and $10 per bag. Addicts can buy heroin for roughly 10 percent of the cost of prescription drugs while experiencing a similar or even more intense high.
In scores of interviews with former heroin addicts, NBC News reported that nearly all reported getting addicted in the same way. They started with prescription drugs they purchased from friends, and when they became too addicted to afford the number of pills they needed to get high, they switched to heroin because it was more affordable.
But this isn’t the only way teens are getting addicted to heroin. Drug traffickers in Mexico and Columbia are specifically marketing heroin to suburban teens, using popular brand logos on small drug packets and giving away free samples of heroin to kids, only to return and sell it once those same kids become hooked.
Effects of heroin
Heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected, but many teenagers begin by snorting or smoking the drug. After that, many move on to injecting heroin because this is said to produce a more potent high. Heroin begins to affect the body’s central nervous system almost immediately. A feeling of euphoria will come over users, and they can feel heavy in the arms or legs. After the initial rush, an alternating state of wakefulness and then drowsiness, sometimes referred to as “on the nod,” occurs. Heroin can also dull pain, and some users rely on heroin to self-medicate with heroin.
Because heroin suppresses the central nervous system, various functions of the body begin to slow down, including pulse and breathing rates. Overdosing on heroin can quickly result in death if a person is not revived. Injection of adrenaline may be needed to counteract the effects of a heroin overdose. Unfortunately, since many people isolate themselves when using heroin, those who overdose often do not receive help in time.
Treatment for heroin addiction
Heroin users can get hooked quite quickly. Parents of teenagers who are using the drug may be told that a combination of medical and psychological therapy can help their kids fight their addictions. Both approaches help to restore a degree of normalcy to brain function and behavior.
It can be difficult for families to recognize heroin addiction, and confronting addicts can be both difficult and heartbreaking. But intervention can help heroin addicts curtail their addiction before it quickly spirals out of control. Parents can seek more information from a drug treatment facility if they suspect their child has an addiction to heroin or another opiate.