Locally prescription drugs, not heroin, still the problem

Heroin storyBy Marissa Donnelly | gargoyle@flagler.edu

A 2013 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed a 20 percent increase in heroin indicators in South Florida from 2011 to 2012, an epidemic traveling up the First Coast.

St. Augustine police officer Jeff Truncellito says the city doesn’t have a large heroin problem compared to other cities in Florida. “It’s here, but we rarely come across it,” he said. “Methamphetamine and prescription pills are the most commonly abused drugs in St. Augustine. We haven’t seen an increase in heroin use since the prescription drug crackdown. However, the abuse of prescription drugs is still on the rise.”

Usually in powder form, white or brown in color, heroin can also be black and sticky, known as Black Tar. Heroin is an opioid blended from morphine, a drug used to treat severe pain. Its illegal counterpart, heroin is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian opium poppy plant.

According to the NIDA report, as of 2011 about 4.2 million Americans 12 years or older had used heroin at least once. An estimated 23 percent of users become dependent on it.

EPIC Behavioral Healthcare, a St. Johns County counseling center for substance abuse and mental health problems, aids children, adolescents, adults and seniors.

Brandon Colee, a counselor at the EPIC, works mainly with minors in the prevention department. “We have seen juveniles as young as middle school age involved in prescription drug use,” Colee said. “Nationally, the big problem is when prescription drugs become too expensive and heroin becomes a second choice, but I haven’t seen that happen with students here directly. It’s not a prevalent juvenile problem.”

As reported in the 2013 NIDA study, in 2011 the average price for a milligram of pure heroin from South America ranged from a low of 54 cents in Detroit to a high of $2.27 in Miami.

The NIDA study also found that many drugs sold as MDMA, widely known as ecstasy, were not so. In the South Florida counties of Miami-Dade and Broward, the drug Molly was sold as ecstasy. While it contained methylone, a chemical nearly identical to MDMA, it was a different drug altogether.

“We have had students in possession of Molly with traces of heroin,” Colee said. “The center works on referrals from schools across the county and there’s drug use in all of them. This problem isn’t something secluded to an area. However, the way parents deal with the problem does differ throughout the county.”

A key issue in South Florida is the increase of injection drug use among young adult groups of prescription injectors, heroin newcomers and methamphetamine users. The newest wave of drug users were born after 1990, toddlers when the high risk of infected syringes became widely known. A serious public health threat of increased HIV and hepatitis C transmission is already taking place.

“Heroin is out there as the nation gets its grip on controlling prescription drugs. It becomes a choice of which problem to tackle,” Colee said.

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