Stronger heroin is only one reason behind the nation's growing addiction problem. The other – and more prevalent cause, say police and medical experts – is the nation's pill culture.
Ana's route to addiction is a familiar one, according to addicts: a progression from alcohol to marijuana to painkillers to heroin. There are variations on that theme: a sports injury and a prescription for opioids that goes on far longer than it should; a peek inside the family medicine cabinet to find a trove of prescription pills – such as Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine – that can be used as recreational drugs.
Often the introduction comes through friends who want to share a high they have discovered. Or it happens at a college party where a variety of drugs are being offered.
Regardless of how it starts, it usually takes the same precipitous route. Once hooked, users look for doctors who will sell them prescription drugs and, failing that, turn desperately to the street, where the price can be as high as $80 for a single pill. When that becomes too expensive, users often resort to the drug that produces the same kind of high that painkillers do but is far cheaper: heroin.
The article is heavy on anecdotes, one of which tells the interesting story about how one group of young addicts looked down on "junkies" while convincing themselves they were using heroin merely to get them through the periods when they didn't have access to the prescription opioids.
The author makes a convincing argument. However, those needing statistics to be convinced should look elsewhere. For example, Ms. Lindborg says on the bottom of page 1 the following:
In Massachusetts, law enforcement authorities recently reported that 185 people have died of heroin overdoses in just the past four months – which didn't include numbers from the state's three largest cities. Nationwide, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), heroin use among persons age 12 and older nearly doubled between 2007 and 2012.
(Emphasis added by me.) But if you actually look at the SAMHSA study you find this:
The annual number of persons with substance dependence or abuse in 2012 (22.2 million) was similar to the number in each of the years from 2002 to 2010 (ranging from 21.6 million to 22.7 million), but it was higher than the number in 2011 (20.6 million). ... The number of persons with heroin dependence or abuse in 2012 (467,000) was approximately twice the number in 2002 (214,000).
Maybe she simply mistook 2002 for 2007.
In any event, a problem next door looks very large to those who see it, and this might be more of a suburban Massachusetts problem at the moment than a nationwide problem. Nevertheless, it would be wise to keep an eye on it should it spread.