As one of the local police chiefs told me today: “it is your fault”. I pushed out the information a little while ago that we have had an increase in our number of heroin deaths, with a significant peak last December, and demonstrated with test results that it is at least in part due to an increase in the purity of the local heroin. Apparently because of that heroin deaths are really getting noticed. Other counties have put out information that they, too, have seen increases in their numbers. Newspapers, TV and radio stations have done reports. Everyone wants something done and those that can do something want to do something (hence the police chief’s call).
We need to guard against misinformation and incorrect conjecture about who, what where, and why. In our county (and I would guess the same is true in other counties) the heroin deaths are occurring throughout the county, across geographic and socioeconomic “boundaries”. With many of them, particularly among the young victims, there seems to be a significant predilection for those with disposable income and extra free-time (just as we see in underage drinking, although I know they are very separate problems).
This is not a “gang problem”, as some would have you believe, it is easier to say it is gangs (the others) than to work to seek out the real sources and solutions. While a big local source is the “west side markets in Chicago”, our local resellers are local kids/folks in affluent and poor neighborhoods alike.
I have been asked in a couple of recent interviews (including one yesterday for a Chicago college newspaper) is it the increased purity alone or is there increased use. I believe it is both. The “new” heroin is deadlier and more addicting. It is easier to use, you can inhale it and you don’t have to inject it. One “new” group of users we are seeing are those folks who start with pain pill use that progresses to over-use and abuse. Then for several reasons they switch to heroin, it is cheaper, easier to get with no doctor or ER shopping required, also when your doctor cuts you off you have to go somewhere.
What to do? I do know that we have to use all the resources we can, all of the sources of information that we have (including the previously unused information that Coroners and MEs have). We need to increase addiction treatment availability, the entire spectrum of treatment options. We need to inform folks that this is happening and not let the public and public officials ignore the problem. This is going to require work and cooperation. Not just the Coroner, not just police and other law enforcement, but moms and kids and other just plain folks. We must get creative with solutions and with information acquisition.
What we are doing now isn’t working. People are dying, kids are dying (an 18 year old last Friday).