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Heroin use on the rise

Opiate-based pain relievers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and others, also known by the generic names oxycodone and hydrocodone, are the number one prescription drug abused by young people and are considered to be gateway drugs into heroin abuse. Because both heroin and these pain relievers are opiates, many abusers of prescription drugs turn to heroin use when the pills become too expensive or hard to find. Two or three OxyContin pills may cost up to $200, but a single dose of heroin can be as cheap as $7.

One tactic dealers use is to sell marijuana laced with heroin with the hope that the user, very often teens, will become addicted. Today's heroin is said to be 15 times more pure than in the 1970s, which allows users to begin use by snorting or smoking the drugs rather than injecting. This has allowed heroin to become much more mainstream. Some youth report experimenting with heroin even before alcohol.

The typical heroin user these days could easily be the girl next door or the popular boy at school, the ones you may least expect to ever try such a thing. Our children look around and see peers in their everyday life using this incredibly dangerous, highly addictive drug. In reality, these are the new faces of heroin.

Ten years ago, CMC-Mercy in Charlotte rarely saw a patient addicted to heroin in its detoxification program. Now, 40 percent of their patients are being treated for abuse of heroin and related prescription drugs. The hospital compiled a breakdown by zip code of where these patients lived. The highest number of heroin patients lived in Matthews; the second highest number in Mint Hill. These communities are located on the border of Mecklenburg and Union counties, contributing to the flow of heroin into Union County.

In August 2010, federal officials designated Union, Gaston and Mecklenburg counties as one of 28 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area zones in the U.S. In Union County, the sheriff's office and the Monroe Police Department have assigned a full-time officer to the task force that shares information between federal, state and local agencies.

"[The increase in heroin use] is as serious as the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic," said UNC Charlotte criminal justice professor Paul Friday while addressing the Charlotte City Council in June. He warns that the increasing use of the highly addictive drug seems particularly prevalent in affluent areas and among young people. "The reason [this problem] is serious is because it can expand so quickly. Kids with scholarships to college, who are from good families, these are the kids who have been targeted. The parents of those kids need to wake up." 

It is critical to talk to your tween/teen about the dangers of heroin use and other drugs. Reinforce your stance against substance abuse. Always know where your child is, who he/she is with and what they are doing, and work hard to keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Research shows that kids who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

To begin or continue the conversation with your children go to Time to Talk, an online resource with tips and tools to help parents talk to kids about the risks of drugs and alcohol.

Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse, The Partnership at Drugfree.org, The Charlotte Observer, Union County Weekly

Written by: Lisa Callaham
Posted: Nov 01, 2011 by Lisa Callaham

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