Demand For Heroin Increasing In Portland 5-19-2011 - KPTV - FOX 12

Demand For Heroin Increasing In Portland 5-19-2011

It’s not the reputation that Portland wants, but heroin users say the Rose City is known for easy access and plentiful supplies of the deadly drug, which is now trapping a whole new generation of user.
“I never planned on being a heroin addict,” said Collin Wright, who’s now recovering and sober. He says his addiction started with prescription pills, after he was given Vicodin for a back injury when he was 18 years old.
As the amount of prescription opiates needed for his addiction became too expensive and difficult to find, he tried heroin at age 27.
“The friends who had it did not want to let me use it,” said Wright. “They knew what it did. I was sick enough at the time, in withdrawals from the pills, I was pretty forceful in getting it from them.”
Wright says once you try heroin, you can’t go back, and the high quickly turns to sickness.
“It gets painful enough,” said Wright. "If you’re not being medically taken care of and treated for withdrawals, you’ll get so desperate, you’ll do just about anything to get more, to get money, to get more.”
A recent survey of drug users by the Multnomah County Health Department has shown evidence of increased demand, as well as newer, younger users. The Department reports the number of syringes given out to prevent the spread of disease in Multnomah County increased by 42 percent.
Watch FOX 12 Report: Increased Demand For Heroin
According to a survey, nearly half of heroin users who were polled said they were hooked on prescription-type opiates before they began using heroin.
Health Officer Dr. Gary Oxman says the evidence suggests there’s not only more injection heroin use in the city, but a shift towards younger users, some of whom transitioned from pills to heroin.
“We know these drugs (opiates) are very commonly prescribed in the community,” Oxman said. “They’re out there in large numbers. It’s really concerning that this may be the beginning, or middle of a very long-term, concerning trend.”
Dr. Oxman says part of the solution will come from reducing the amount of opiates in the community, as well as educating the public.
“What we’ve done is tightened up prescribing patterns,” Oxman said of the county doctors and clinics. “We’re much more hesitant to give out prescriptions for opiates than we used to be.”
It’s an issue being looked at and discussed by the health department, health providers and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
“I’m afraid we have a whole generation that’s going to be suffering through this addiction for the rest of their lives,” said Mark McDonnell, the senior deputy district attorney in charge of the drug unit. “This is a very, very dangerous situation that we have.”
It's a situation that McDonnell is carefully tracking. According to the latest numbers from the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, heroin deaths account for the majority of overdose deaths in the county, with 87 reported in 2010. That’s down slightly from 94 in 2009, when the D.A.’s Office said Portland held the highest per capita rate of heroin overdose deaths in the nation.
“You will die from it; it’s just a matter of when,” said deputy district attorney Ryan Lufkin, who keeps a binder of the faces and lives lost to heroin.
“None of these people are bad people,” said Lufkin, flipping through the pictures. He said some died within a year of getting hooked on pain pills.
“You don’t know what you’re messing with,” said Collin Wright. “Within a week or two, you are physically dependent on these drugs, and you become a slave to it. To try it is rolling the dice and playing with fire.”
Both Wright and the District Attorney’s Office believe more regulation of prescription pain pills is needed to prevent the problem, because once the addiction starts, it’s not easy to break the cycle.
McDonnell says Oregon has some of the most lenient drug laws in the country for both users and dealers. Prosecutors say the lack of risk has made this an easy market for those selling or buying the drug.
In addition, they note a lack of resources for people who don’t voluntarily seek treatment. Lufkin says the majority of the users he prosecutes do not seek treatment, and instead return to the streets, looking for their next high.
“They are gambling with their life over and over again,” said Lufkin.
However, Wright falls into a different category after using heroin on and off for five years. He says an arrest led to a new chapter, after he chose drug, or “STOP” court. The program allows defendants charged with possession of a user amount of a controlled substance to have their case dismissed if they successfully complete the program, which includes treatment, random drug tests, enrolling in school or getting a job.
Wright is now studying to become an addiction counselor, so he can help others who are still struggling.
“Fortunately, there are chances to turn your life around," he said.

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