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Prescription Drug Dependence Leads to Heroin Use in Minnesota

Heroin is back in Minneapolis and St. Paul after a hiatus of almost a generation. While methamphetamine has taken up much of the drug-related press in recent years, there is ample evidence to suggest heroin has returned to popularity in Minnesota. Authorities are responding to the drug's rise in popularity. Prosecutions for heroin crimes in Minneapolis and surrounding communities have increased dramatically over the past year.

Oxycodone and Other Prescription Drugs Behind the Surge

Although heroin is back, the profile of the average heroin addict has changed. For many, the road to heroin use, started with prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet and other opiate based prescription painkillers.

More and more Minnesotans are being prescribed opiate-based pain relievers for pain management following accidents and surgeries. Because these drugs are so addictive, what begins as pain relief quickly turns to addiction. The widespread distribution of prescription opiates has caused addiction rates to skyrocket.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, prescription opiate addicts now comprise 10 percent of all admissions into treatment centers. The number of people who sought treatment for either prescription drug or heroin abuse in 2011 is four times what it was in 2000.

The problem most prescription addicts eventually face is cost. Obtaining prescription pain killers is expensive. That's when most people turn to heroin. Heroin is a lot cheaper than oxycodone, especially in Minnesota. According to Minnesota Public Radio, the cost can be as little as 25 cents a milligram.

Prescription drugs are now the new gateway. And unfortunately, many of the addicts facing drug crimes charges are not just people with chronic pain. Teenagers are pilfering prescription medications from their parents' medicine cabinets to get high and finding them quickly swept up in addiction and discovering heroin.

Heroin Not Just a Criminal Issue

Local authorities are not just concerned about the crime related to heroin use. The drug itself has been responsible for surge in overdose fatalities within the past year. Heroin-related fatalities in Ramsey, Hennepin and Anoka counties rose from 16 to 46 in 2011.

The purity of the drug is part of the problem. Recent tests on the drug have found it to be 93.5 pure, making it the most potent in the country. The purity makes it much more difficult for addicts to control their dosage, making it easy to overdose.

Sources: www.startribune.com, "Heroin Roars Back, With Lethal Results," Nicole Norfleet, 13 April 2012 and www.mpr.org, "Minnesota Heroin Addicts Hooked Via Prescription Opiates," Jon Collins, 28 February 2012

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