A potent form of heroin is taking hold in the St. Louis area, making addiction easier and raising the risk of violence among traffickers, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “White heroin” is displacing black tar heroin as it has in some larger cities, says the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The switch comes as heroin use is growing and appears to be spreading to younger addicts.
White heroin does not need to be injected. That appeals to people squeamish about giving themselves shots of black tar because they don’t like needles or they fear AIDS or hepatitis through shared hypodermics. “Traffickers are able to market this heroin better by saying you can snort it or smoke it,” said DEA agent William Renton Jr.
Until now, black tar heroin from Mexico has dominated the St. Louis market. White heroin comes from Afghanistan and southwest Asia. White heroin is considerably more potent, raising the risk of overdoses. The white heroin in the St. Louis area is as high as 28 percent pure morphine, nearly twice the purity found in the black tar variety.
Heroin has been associated with older junkies, but it appears to be making inroads with young people of diverse backgrounds. “A lot of times the stereotype is that a typical heroin user is an older person … but that’s not what you see,” said Dr. Heidi Israel of St. Louis University School of Medicine. “There is a younger population that is being represented in the treatment data, more 18- to 24-year-olds.”
Federal prosecutors in St. Louis brought heroin trafficking charges against 53 people in the year that ended Sept. 30. That was up from 45 the prior year and 21 the year before that. Whatever the type, heroin sales in the area appear to be thriving. One gang sold an estimated $100,000 worth of black tar each week until police broke it up last year.