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article imageHeroin is getting cheaper in Denver and beyond

By KJ Mullins     Jan 5, 2015 in Health
Heroin is a fairly cheap drug. In Denver, Colorado a single dose costs from $10 to $25. That price is much less than some of the most commonly used legal prescription drugs that are used for recreational use like Oxycodone.
As a result of the lower cost a wave of new heroin addiction is happening in Denver and other cities in North America.
In Colorado admissions to recovery centres for opioid addiction treatment have risen in the past few years. Many think of heroin addicts as sitting in a room with a needle but the drug can also be snorted, sniffed or smoked. Globally 9.2 million people use heroin, making it one of the world's most common drugs. Processed from morphine, heroin is so addictive that recovering addicts can have cravings for the drug years after their last hit. From abdominal cramping and vomiting to muscle aches and elevated heart rate the withdrawal process can be painful, starting within eight hours of the last hit. The process generally peaks within three days but some people struggle with the symptoms for up to a week.
Heroin is highly addictive to begin with. There is now a new mix on the streets that combines heroin with Fentanyl, a drug that is much more powerful than heroin on its own. That combination is a deadly mix. In Denver alone the drug is connected to 30 to 40 people being rushed in a life and death struggle to emergency rooms.
"Many of the patients who have used heroin or other drugs for a period of time have a pretty good idea of what they can take and what they can't. When we get a bad batch out there, it's usually more concentrated than what they're used to," said Dr. Christopher Colwell, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Denver Health.
Across North America over 1,000 people have died using fentanyl-laced heroin and in some cases straight fentanyl. Used clinically for patients who are in chronic pain, such as the pain from late stage cancer, fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Because it is colourless and has no scent the average person can not tell if it has been mixed into their drugs.
The CDC reported that one gram of pure fentanyl can turn into 7,000 street-level doses of the drug. The clinical versions of the fentanyl are expensive but it is easily made by those who peddle street-level drugs for a fraction of the cost. The results are a deadly mix.
"Fentanyl is a tremendous concern to me," Joseph Coronato, the Ocean County Prosecutor told "It's so powerful, but when you're addicted you're chasing the rabbit. They'll say 'wow, this is tremendous stuff, I've got to get it.' It becomes like a marketing tool."
In Spartanburg County, South Carolina the deadly combo started appearing in December. As in other areas where the drug has shown up the first evidence comes when police chemists and coroners are working on dead victims.
"There are actually many documented cases where the person dies with the needle still in their arm, because they were shooting up Fentanyl instead of heroin thinking they were still shooting up heroin," Lt. Ashley Harris. told "We've already had some questionable OD's in the county, and we think it could be a growing problem based on the number of cases that are submitted that we're seeing Fentanyl found in."
In New Jersey, where heroin use in general is at a record high, there have been several deaths. What worries authorities is that the users often do not know that they are getting the deadly combo when they buy it on the street.
One of the problems for public health and law enforcement is that many areas do not have real time reporting done for drug overdoses. Because of this early clues of a bad batch of drugs on the street can be overlooked.
"There's currently nothing in place in New Jersey that mandates the reporting of drug overdoses," said Steven Marcus, medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education Center, who investigated the 2005 fentanyl outbreak. "In the past, we were able to pick up new outbreaks of such things as fentanyl being sold as heroin, the emergence of synthetic cannabinoids, etc. ... Without real time reporting to us, we can only depend on someone thinking to call us. If we mandate all overdoses/poisonings, then we are less likely to miss something important."
In Vancouver police issued a warning in October about the drug. The city issued another warning on the first day of 2015 after the death of a 24-year-old man. "No matter what the appearance of the drug being sold or what you are told it is," said John Carsley, Vancouver's medical health officer, "there is never any guarantee you are buying what you think you are buying. It may be stronger, contaminated or contain a completely different substance.”
Last month an Akron, Ohio man was sentenced to 20 years for selling a woman heroin laced with fentanyl. The woman, Alicia LaRiche died from an overdose of the drug on Nov. 9, 2013. On Dec. 17, 2014 Siarres R. Noble was convicted on seven counts of dealing drugs and the death of LaRiche.
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