Heroin use has reached epidemic levels nationally and in Massachusetts, where deaths from the drug and related narcotics rose nearly fourfold in the 1990s, the Boston Globe reports. Recently, Boston addicts began taking the newest treatment, a medication called buprenorphine. Unlike methadone, it can be given in a family doctor’s office or even taken at home, and it is both safer and less likely to prove addictive.
Buprenorphine, which became available in this country last January, marks the biggest advance in heroin treatment in decades, said federal drug treatment authorities, who are touring the country to promote it. At Boston University School of Medicine yesterday, representatives of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration encouraged primary care physicians to undergo the required eight hours of training so that they can treat patients with the new drug.
A study issued in December by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that heroin ranks as the illegal drug of choice for patients checking into rehab clinics; 42 percent of patients who received substance abuse treatment in 2002 reported they had used the drug recently, compared with 19 percent a decade earlier.
Heroin is both purer and cheaper today, with a hit selling in some neighborhoods for less than a six-pack of beer. Unlike a decade ago, when heroin was rejected by middle-class users as the drug of street junkies, today the drug is snorted and smoked, burnishing its appeal in the suburbs. Specialists estimate that fewer than 1 in 5 addicts get needed treatment at a time when the nation has some 1 million heroin users.