Holly Yates started using painkillers in the ninth grade, at parties and hanging out with friends. The pills were everywhere, easy to get and cheap. By the time she was 18, she was abusing oxycodone, Percocet and other pills every day.
“My cousin, she was into heroin and I started hanging out with her,” said Yates, a hazel-eyed 20-year-old. “She told me about it, and I was like, ‘I want to try it.’ The first time that I shot it up, it was like, ‘Where has this been all my life?’”
Experts say Yates and others in this town of about 38,000 southeast of Columbus are on the leading edge of a frightening new drug abuse trend – one that is ironically being fueled by a national crackdown on prescription painkillers. While new regulations and law enforcement efforts have significantly reduced the supply of these drugs, they say, those efforts have inadvertently driven many users to another type of opiate that is cheap, powerful and perhaps even more destructive – heroin.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Dr. Joe Gay, director of the regional addiction and mental health clinic Health Recovery Services, who has studied patterns of drug use in the state.
A flood of cheap heroin from Mexico, which is now one of the leading sources of the drug to the United States, is one reason for the return of the scourge. According to the Justice Department, the drug is showing up in new areas, including upscale suburban towns where heroin was once rare.
In Illinois, for example, researchers at Roosevelt University have found a spike in young suburban heroin abusers. Long Island, New York, has in recent years seen a rash of addiction among the young. A spike in heroin use and related crime has Dane County, Wis., reeling. Even states like Washington, where heroin has a longtime presence, have seen a sharp increase among young users. In King County, home to Seattle, nearly a third of those entering treatment for heroin abuse in 2009 were between ages 18 and 29 — a sharp increase from a decade before.
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