A wave of teens and 20-somethings in suburbs across the Northeast are becoming addicted to and dying from abuse of heroin and prescription opiates like OxyContin, says U.S. News & World Report. Once prevalent mostly in big cities, heroin has been spreading out to smaller towns in New England and the mid-Atlantic as it is becoming more widely available in a highly pure, inexpensive form that can be snorted. Many young addicts get started on prescription drugs, move on to cheap heroin that can be snorted, and end up injecting it for a more potent high. In Massachusetts, the number of opiate-related deaths, which include overdoses and fatal drug interactions, among people ages 13 to 30 was five times as great in 2006 as it was in 1997.
Douglas Collier, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in New Jersey, worries that parents in these suburban areas don’t realize how frequently prescription opiate abuse is leading to heroin. An annual survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 2.1 million people ages 12 or older who tried an illicit drug for the first time in 2007 chose prescription pain relievers, 57,000 more than the number who tried marijuana. Collier frequently meets with groups of parents; when he asks whether they lock their liquor cabinets before leaving the house, Collier sees a sea of raised hands. When he asks how many lock their medicine cabinets, he often sees just a single hand.