Painkillers, easy heroin supply partly to blame
State police recovered these 1,250 bags of heroin, labeled "Obamacare" and "Kurt Cobain," in a Hatfield traffic stop . Photo/Mass State Police
Why is heroin the problem drug of the moment?
Experts say that prescription opioids — close relatives of the illegal drug — often provide a deceptively soft introduction through legitimate medical use or illicit abuse.
In addition, increased medical attention to pain since the 1990s, with pharmaceutical companies both driving and responding to this attention, has radically increased the presence of opioid painkillers in medicine cabinets around the country.
New painkiller formulations are often intended to be less abusable, but time-release and similar properties are easily sidestepped.
Prescription drugs have in recent years killed more people than street drugs, experts say. Of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths recorded by the Centers for Disease Control in 2010, 60 percent were due to pharmaceuticals — but the misguided perception that prescription opioids are safer remains.
The abundant supply and relatively low cost of heroin lures users already dependent on pills, as well as equal-opportunity users and people exposed through their social circles.
Fewer explanations are available for the relative abundance of heroin in the Northeast and its low price, generally reported as between $5 and $20 a packet in and near Franklin County. Response to the demand created by pills and the absence of crystal methamphetamine, the overwhelming problem drug of the central and western U.S. for years, are occasionally cited.
According to the United Nations and federal agencies, the bulk of the world’s heroin is produced in southern Asia and the Middle East, while the heroin available in the United States is produced almost exclusively in Mexico and Colombia.
Producing, processing, transporting and distributing the drug is a multi-billion dollar business often accompanied by violence.
Philosophical and political differences in Washington also divide U.S. leadership between a focus on interrupting supply through law enforcement or eliminating demand by increasing support of educational efforts and treatment.
— CHRIS CURTIS