Wednesday, December 05, 2012

As pain-pill trade gets riskier in Appalachian states, much cheaper heroin resurfaces

Officials and law enforcement in Appalachian states have been cracking down on the prescription pain-pill drug trade for years. They've created electronic prescription-tracking systems, restricted prescribers, staked out pain management clinics and shut down a drug pipeline that started in Florida. It's all been done to curb the pain-pill epidemic that recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death in the nation. But now, just as those efforts were showing signs of paying off, an old, familiar drug has made a resurgence: heroin.

"There's always some type of drug to step up when another gets taken out," Dan Smoot, law enforcement director of Operation UNITE, which handles drug investigations in 29 Eastern Kentucky counties, told Brett Barrouquere of The Associated Press. "We didn't know it was going to be heroin. We knew something was going to replace pills."

Officials say the heroin is trafficked from Mexico into the U.S., where it first goes to Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Northern Kentucky counties have been the epicenter of heroin abuse in the state, but law enforcement officials in Louisville, Lexington and Appalachian counties are reporting "a dramatic rise in the number of arrests and seizures related" to heroin. Kentucky State Police seized 11 doses of heroin and other opiates in 2008 in the eastern half of the state; they have seized 395 doses there so far this year.

Users are attracted to heroin's low cost compared to pain pills, Barrouquere reports. A single oxycodone pill can cost from $80 to $100, but heroin can cost as little as $15 to $20 for an amount that will produce the same level of intoxication as one pain pill for 24 hours, Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Director Van Ingram said. (Read more)

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