Heroin increasing in local prevalence, decreasing in perceived danger
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 23:09
Use of the illegal drug heroin has risen in Delaware in recent years, a member of a drug prevention program said.
“Heroin use is definitely an epidemic in the area,” said Jeremiah Daley, executive director of the Philadelphia-Camden High Intensity Drug Traffic Areas program. He said heroin drug use is on the rise in the greater Philadelphia area as a whole.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the HIDTA programs aim to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States through a variety of methods, including cooperation and intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies and coordinated strategies to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the country.
“The goal of the program is to create some context in which federal, state and local law can work cooperatively to reduce national availability of drugs,” Daley said.
The HIDTA program does not deal with street-level sales nor individual use other than through prevention. Rather, the organization deals with trafficking of drugs smuggled through regions of the United States and across country borders, Daley said.
Daley said 30 to 40 years ago, heroin use was a localized phenomenon, and the typical user was a poverty-stricken inner city resident who purchased the drug from a local street dealer. In contrast, today suburban middle-class residents are taking heroin, he said.
“There used to be a stigma that heroin was just for junkies, but now, that stigma has changed,” said Darryl Chambers, graduate research assistant at the University of Delaware’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies.
The change from traditional users is predominantly cost-related. Many of these new users are transitioning from prescription opioid drug abuse to heroin because of the relative cheapness, Daley said. With a crackdown on prescription painkillers, pills such as oxytocin and oxycodone can range from $20 to $30 a pill, while heroin can cost $10 or less for a bag, he said.
“About a year ago, officials in Wilmington were talking about cracking down on prescription drugs, and they did,” Chambers said. “This problem is what has resulted from that—kids taking those pills recreationally are opting for the much more inexpensive heroin.”
Chambers said that in Philadelphia, they are even seeing young women who have become addicted in the sex trade prostituting themselves to pay for the habit.
“The number of heroin abusers is increasing, and so is the supply—the supply and demand curves aren’t intersecting,” Daley said. “They are following each other. Four factors affect the prevalence of a drug: cost, availability, perceived danger and amount of dependency produced by the drug.”
The drug is cheap as well as widely available, with supplies coming in from the Indian states in South America as well as Mexico, which has recently entered the market, Daley said. He said heroin is simple to produce—there is no complex chemical process. The opium plant is grown, harvested and refined into heroin, he said. While the availability of heroin has risen, the perceived danger associated with heroin has gone down 2 percent, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The survey also said the lower the perceived risk associated with a drug, the higher the rate of substance abuse.
“The number of first-time heroin users doubled over the last five years, and a portion of them became dependent,” Daley said.
He said heroin dependency takes about two to three months of regular use to develop, “but once a user is addicted, it is brutal.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.
This problem is not just a Philadelphia-area problem but one affecting the entire nation, Daley said. Philadelphia is the major supplier for this area simply because it is a large city in close proximity, Chambers said.
“Delaware is such a unique setting with so many heroin towns close by—Baltimore, Philadelphia and Camden,” Chambers said. “Delaware is ideal for dealers, and the university is prime real estate to introduce something like this.”
Junior Jared McCabe said he thinks drug use is a problem on campus, although he does not think heroin is a prevalent drug at the university.
“I think weed, alcohol and Adderall are the most popular drugs on campus,” McCabe said.
From a student perspective, McCabe said programs should be incorporated into school curriculums in order to drive teenagers’ attention away from drugs and to find positive replacements for drug behavior in their lives. But Daley said he does not think the solution is so simple.
“We are very concerned with the problem escalation,” Daley said. “People are shifting from prescription drugs to heroin, which speaks to the larger problem of over medicating people. Policymakers need to get their arms around this issue. There is a broad public policy solution, not a law enforcement solution.”