SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Heroin, a drug most often associated with the gritty back alleys of big cities, is making a surprising surge in suburban, affluent places.
Many new heroin addicts started as teens, abusing prescription painkillers they found in their homes, say law enforcement and public health officials.
The transition from getting high on a parent’s leftover meds to being a strung-out heroin addict is easier, faster and more common than parents might believe, say addiction experts, drug officers and recovering addicts.
Auburn, Calif., native Brandon Scott was 15 when he started using prescription meds, mostly OxyContin — a brand name of the opioid painkiller oxycodone. In a matter of months, he went from the prolonged buzz of ingesting the pills to boosting the high by crushing the pills and smoking them.
Once addicted, and willing to do anything to keep the painful withdrawal symptoms at bay, it was a short leap to heroin, said Scott, who is now 19 and in recovery.
“I would have never guessed that I would be putting a needle in my vein to get high. I just thought I was trying to ease the pain,” he said.
Law enforcement, addiction treatment providers and health officials say the spike in heroin use is alarming.
When Jeff Kool began his stint as a Roseville, Calif., police drug officer five years ago, methamphetamine was the scourge. Since then he’s observed a spike in the use of OxyContin and other prescription drugs.
Now a surge in heroin. “Heroin is off the hook right now,” offered Kool.
Ryan Booth, 31, observed the same thing, from a user’s perspective. He started with marijuana at 16; by 18 he was on to meth. Four years ago, he began abusing OxyContin, then finding his way to heroin.
“You start doing one thing and it leads to another,” said Booth, who lives in an Auburn transitional house. “I see all these young kids getting addicted to pills and then they move on to heroin. That is the epidemic these days.”
The painkiller problem is particularly bad in the well-to-do suburbs where there is plenty of “prescribed heroin” to swipe from parents or grandparents, Kool said.
He said kids see it as a safe, clean drug since it came from a doctor, as opposed to street drugs such as meth or heroin.
Scott, who is trying to stay clean by speaking up and writing music about his problems, said the number of teens taking painkillers shocks him.
“I think people would be surprised how many kids are doing it. Honor roll kids. It’s everywhere,” he said. “It’s because all these parents have cabinets full of it.”