The spike in people addicted to prescription painkillers has evolved into an alarming new trend: increasing heroin use, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The Waukesha County medical examiner reports more heroin overdose deaths so far in 2008 than in any recent year. Law enforcement officials throughout the Milwaukee area say heroin use is on the rise, an increase they attribute to people addicted to oxycodone or hydrocodone graduating to the stronger opiate. A deputy medical examiner cautioned that the number of heroin-related deaths is likely under-reported in some cases because heroin metabolizes quickly in the blood. The drug can appear as an overdose of morphine in some autopsies. Unless a specific metabolite is found in the body, the most a medical examiner can do is rule that the death was caused by an opiate.
What southeast Wisconsin is experiencing mirrors a national trend in which users of highly addictive prescription painkillers turn to heroin when the “oxy” pill is not available. The difference between drug users today and those of years past is that users a decade ago may have started with marijuana, then progressed to more addictive and dangerous drugs, such as cocaine, before trying heroin – a process that may take years.