By Rose Brocato
Like many people who struggle with drug abuse, Dana Rogers was at the gripping hands of addiction for 10 years. In 2003 she started using Oxycontin, an opioid that commonly treats moderate to severe pain, with a guy she had liked. The Hampstead, Maryland, native says she barely knew anything about it.
Rogers, whose last name has been changed to protect her identity, went home to tell her brother about the new opioid she started using. She was shocked to find out he had already been introduced to Oxycontin.
“I came home and told my little brother and found out he had been doing it for years,” Rogers said. “We became using buddies.”
Opioids were only the beginning of the Rogers siblings’ addiction. Dana Rogers said one day she walked in on her brother with a heroin needle and begged him not to do it.
“I tried to tell him if he did it, I would do it too,” Rogers said. “I thought he wouldn’t do it but he did, and it took over our lives.”
By 2004 Rogers had moved on to heroin because of her brother. She began her 10 years of heavy heroin use. Her story is consistent with the larger trend of opioid and heroin abuse, which have significantly increased over the past decade. Drug addiction has driven more and more people to overdoses and death in the U.S..
Opioid Analgesics, which are highly addictive pain relievers, have caused more overdose deaths than heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999-2014 there were a total of 193,947 opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. Comparably, there were 56,632 heroin overdose deaths.
In 2014 there were 18,893 overdose deaths from opioids, about 8,000 more than from heroin. From 1999-2014 there was a 516 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in women alone.
Over the past few years, opioid overdose deaths decreased and then increased slightly while heroin has spiked drastically. From 2010-2014 heroin overdose deaths increased by 7,538.
Nora Hoban, a healthcare data analyst for the Maryland Hospital Association, said one reason for the growth in heroin deaths is that heroin is easier to obtain than opioids. The problem starts with pain relievers such as opioids and eventually snowballs into a more economical alternative pain reliever: heroin.
“I think it’s the spiral of addiction and once you’re addicted its very hard to stop,” Hoban said. “It’s the chase of the high, but it really plays down to accessibility. Heroin is way more accessible than opioids, which have to be prescribed.”
Hoban also said that part of the problem could be doctors overprescribing opioids. There are systems in place to track when people are abusing their prescriptions. In order to get around that, addicts will turn to other routes.
“Since you can only get opioids through a prescription, there are prescription monitoring systems that track if patients are trying to get the drugs from different hospitals,” Hoban said. “When people no longer have access to prescription drugs, heroin is relatively cheap alternative that can be purchased on the street without a doctor.”
As the chart below shows, opioid deaths have held steady in recent years for both men and women, but heroin deaths have rise sharply, especially among men.
Male overdose deaths have caused the heroin overdose number to increase the most as men account for about 80 percent of the total heroin overdose deaths.
Hoban said she does not know why men overdose significantly more than women, but she has a few theories. Men are probably less likely to be concerned with getting in trouble with the law than women. They could be more aggressive with the dosage and frequency of heroin due to the chase of the high. And they may be more likely to do drugs alone -- therefore no one is there to save them when they overdose.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was the first in the United States to declare a State of Emergency regarding the national opioid and heroin crisis. Hoban said the governor is trying to prevent deaths by implementing the use of a drug called Naloxone.
“Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effect of the overdose, and can save people's lives,” Hoban said. “The first priority is to save someone’s life, then it’s getting an addict treatment. Naloxone and Narcan can only revive someone who has overdosed, but it does not serve as treatment for addiction.”
From 1999-2014 there has been a 600 percent increase in overdose deaths due to Benzodiazepines.
“Benzodiazepines are laced in the heroin, which causes people to get addicted so easily,” said Laura Hahn, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Towson University.
Hahn said that Benzodiazepines are much stronger than heroin, so individuals who use heroin that is laced with the anti-anxiety drug become extremely addicted to it. Then addicts begin to crave Benzodiazepines alone, which has caused the percent increase to rise more than heroin.
As of December 7, 2013, Dana Rogers has been clean and prioritizes her sobriety every day. She is a mother now and says her life is much different from only a few years ago. Fortunately, she was able to end her cycle of addiction before she became another statistic in the increasing heroin overdose deaths.
heroin deaths spike nationwide, led by surge in ohio
By Sophia McBrien
The Cincinnati Enquirer has a heroin reporter. Not a health reporter or even an illicit drugs reporter. Terry DeMio’s beat is covering one specific – and very deadly – drug.
That’s how serious heroin use has become in Ohio.
“According to a recent survey, one in five Ohioans know someone who’s been affected by heroin use – be it a friend or family member,” DeMio said.
Ohio isn’t the only state with a heroin crisis. But it has the highest rate of deaths per state resident -- and it's not even close. In 2015, the last year in which data is available, Ohio had more than 1,400 deaths from heroin overdoses -- several hundred more deaths than in New York, a state nearly twice its size in population. Heroin deaths in Ohio have risen sharply since 2010.
Ohio's spike in heroin deaths mirrors trends in the U.S. -- though the increase isn't as dramatic in many parts of the country.
According to DeMio, Ohio is a great supply dump. Highways like I-71 and I-75 make it easily accessible to dealers.
DeMio blames this spike in heroin to a related drug Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate. This prescription drug is not being produced in the United States. Instead, it is coming from “bucket factories” in China where the ingredients are incorrectly measured.
“The drugs are generally brought from Mexico,” DeMio said. “Sometimes Fentanyl comes from China and is dropped at the Canadian border, then picked up by Mexican cartel sellers and brought in.”
The state has also been criticized for being a so-called "pill mill," which is a term used to describe a doctor, clinic, or pharmacy that is prescribing powerful narcotics for non-medical reason. This has led to an increase in addiction to strong prescription painkillers, making this a perfect market for the drug to be sold, especially since it’s cheaper and more accessible.
Across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 77 percent of people who died from a heroin overdose in 2015 were white.
More than three-fourths of heroin deaths in 2015 were men -- most commonly men between 25 and 44 year olds.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, men have higher rates of use or dependence on illicit drugs compared to women. The institute found that women are likelier to use smaller amounts of heroin compared to men and are less likely to inject the drug -- the deadliest form of usage.
Ohio has created several programs funded by the state to help get the epidemic under control.
“The state is pushing medication-assisted treatment, the gold standard for care for opioid/heroin addiction,” DeMio said. “In addition, there are new docs coming in and getting certified to treat heroin-addicted people with buprenorphine, which is one of three FDA-approved types of medication.”
Heroin/cocaine sales, possession arrests on the decline
By Danielle Ruddy
Since 1999, Daniel Trimble has prosecuted felony drug crimes in Baltimore County.
“I’ve dealt with hundreds of heroin-related arrests," Trimble said. “Narrowing it down to one case would be pretty difficult.”
Heroin arrests for sales and possession have been so commonplace that Trimble said “that's why they spell Baltimore with an H."
While deaths from heroin use have spiked nationwide, data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting show that heroin and cocaine arrests (combined in the FBI's reporting) have decreased significantly from 2005-2015. While there were roughly 543,600 arrests for both possession and sales in 2005, there were 378,132 in 2015.
Arrests for heroin/cocaine possession have far outnumbered arrests for sales over time, and both numbers have generally declined over the past decade. However in the last few years, the number of possession arrests in the U.S. have increased slightly -- though nowhere near the level they were at their height in 2006 (nearly 450,000).
Heroin and cocaine arrest trends mirror national trends for all drug arrests. Since 2015, they have also been on a sharp decline, from roughly 1,900,000 in 2006 to less than 1,500,000 in 2015, according to FBI data.
Out of all the drug arrests made in 2015, sales arrests were 16.1 and possession arrests were 83.9 percent. In terms of distribution, heroin and cocaine were 5.5 percent of arrests, while marijuana sales were at 4.6 percent out of the 16.1 percent total. Marijuana was the leader in possession arrests. Marijuana was 38.6 percent of arrests, and in second were dangerous non narcotics at 20.2 percent.
Laura Hahn, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Towson University who worked previously for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that “marijuana is the gateway drug to heroin users, and people start smoking marijuana at a younger age, then as time passes they get into other drugs people said they would never do and fall into things such as heroin.”
Trimble said different drugs have different restrictions in certain areas. Marijuana may be more accessible and sometimes legal, hence why the possession arrests are higher than those of sales. Heroin and cocaine are illegal in all ways, so people will get in trouble more often for intent to distribute.
Hahn explained that law enforcement has been creating programs and trying to create awareness among a younger generation to help the fight against these drug arrests. She claims that we will never truly be able to fix the drug problem in the United States because “where there is demand, there is a supply.”