U.S. heroin use is soaring, especially in rural areas, amid ample supply and a shift away from costlier prescription narcotics that are tougher to get, reports the Wall Street Journal. The total of people who say they used heroin in the past year jumped 53.5 percent to 620,000 between 2002 to 2011, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. There were 3,094 overdose deaths in 2010, 55 percent up from 2000, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of the heroin that reaches small towns comes from Mexico, where producers have ramped up production. Heroin seizures at the Southwest border, from Texas to California, jumped to 1,989 kilograms in fiscal 2012 from 487 kilograms in 2008, says the Drug Enforcement Administration. The heroin scourge has been driven largely by a law-enforcement crackdown on illicit use of prescription painkillers like oxycodone, and drug-company reformulations that make pills harder to crush and snort. Those addicted to the pills turned to heroin, which is cheaper and more plentiful. “Basically, you have a generation of ready-made heroin addicts,” said Matthew Barnes, DEA agent in charge in Seattle.