Starting early last year, Oregon police reported seeing a big increase in the amount of heroin entering the state, The Oregonian reports. As the year wore on, the bodies kept piling up. By the end of 2011, 143 people, mostly young men, had died of heroin overdoses in Oregon. That’s 53 more than died the year before, and the most since the 131 who died in 2000.
“The numbers are driven by the availability of heroin and how cheap it is,” said state medical examiner Karen Gunson. “More than ever it’s just a flood–especially of heroin. It’s like a tidal wave.” Gunson said heroin deaths peaked in the state in 1990, with about 250 tied to the drug’s use. That number kept dropping until about 2005 when it gradually started going up again. She said the other factor driving the increase other than its availability is the fact that most heroin in Oregon is black tar heroin, which is not easy to cut with fillers that might decrease its potency. “When you use it, you have no idea what you’ve got,” Gunson said. “It could be 20 percent, or 60 percent pure.”