While new regulations and law enforcement efforts have significantly reduced the supply of prescription drugs, they have inadvertently driven many users to another type of opiate that is cheap, powerful and perhaps even more destructive—heroin. Across the country, experts are seeing abuse of heroin at striking levels. “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 Ohio. A flood of cheap heroin from Mexico, which is now one of the leading sources of the drug to the United States, is another 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. Suburban father Randy Mayer explains his attitude before his daughter got addicted, “There was never a thought that ever entered my mind that I would ever lose a child through addiction.” He continues, “Watching this thing grab her and not let go, I mean, it was a horrible time.” Teens emphasize the difficulty of avoiding heroin when its use is so prevalent. “It’s just hard being young and staying clean,” says Holly Yates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “I mean this town; it’s just, like, that’s all that’s here.”
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. Then they stopped being enough.
“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?’”
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