New ways to ingest opiates lure the young
“I’m more afraid of getting stuck with a needle than I am of being shot,” said Jarret Mousseau, narcotics officer with the Athol Police Department.
“I come across them more now than I’ve ever seen. More and more of them by the side of the road. That’s the regular call. ‘Go out and pick up a needle here’,” Mousseau said. “It’s a pretty regular thing, unfortunately.”
The state crime labs do not analyze syringes unless they are involved in a criminal case. Unless they are found with other indicators of heroin use, Greenfield Detective Lt. Daniel McCarthy said, it should not be assumed they were left by heroin users as opposed to careless diabetics.
Yet, needles reported in the Greenfield Police call log are occasionally found with empty heroin packets or the spoon used in preparing a solution for injection.
“You never know what’s in that spoon anymore,” said Mousseau. “They’re crushing pills now and shooting up.”
Heroin can be taken in a variety of ways, the method of ingestion depending on the drug’s purity and the preference of the individual user.
Heroin can be dissolved and injected — the familiar Hollywood ritual of spoon, lighter, cotton filter and hypodermic syringe. It can be smoked, usually by heating the drug and chasing the vapors with a straw, known as “chasing the dragon.”
“It can also be smoked in a cigarette. While the heat tends to destroy some of the drug, if the preparation is pure enough, a sufficient amount can be inhaled to produce the typical opiate effect,” according to the Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol & Addictive Behavior.
The idea of smoking heroin in this manner, generally mixed with marijuana, comes up occasionally but is often dismissed as rumor by users and police.
Some users prefer to snort or sniff the powder, identified as a growing trend in ingestion as early as the 1990s.
A 1995 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy found “While the majority of users are still reported to be older, established ones, the ethnographers in many areas report increased use among younger, suburban users. These new users are more likely to inhale than to inject the drug.”
Detective Leon Laster of the Montague Police Department, the department’s narcotics detective, a former member of the now defunct Hampshire-Franklin Narcotics Task Force and of the new Anti Crime Task Force, estimates heroin use has been on the rise locally for the past five years, and identifies the same trend nationally in terms of ingestion.
“We’re finding our users are a lot younger now because they don’t mainline it like the days of old, meaning the preferred method now is not so much injecting it as it is snorting it. A lot of young people are snorting because they have a fear of needles or AIDS or contracting disease, so they snort and they get the same effect,” Laster said.
Prescription opiates are abused in the same variety of ways, often with extra steps worked into the preparation process to defeat the various time-release and abuse-prevention qualities developed by pharmaceutical companies.
Mousseau said some users are also lighting pills directly now, and inhaling the smoke in the same fashion as heroin.
Franklin County and North Quabbin middle and high school students surveyed in grades 8, 10 and 12 report low levels of heroin use, with 1 percent reporting having tried heroin in their lifetime in 2009 and 1.4 percent in 2012, according to results gathered by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth.
Simultaneously, 10.2 percent in 2009 and 7.9 percent in 2012 reported having taken narcotic prescription drugs without a prescription. Both categories were heavily outweighed by tobacco, marijuana and alcohol, with tobacco and marijuana use hovering around 30 percent and alcohol above 50 percent both years.