The Portland area is caught in the grip of a full-scale heroin epidemic, according to a top agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Cam Strahm, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Portland District, said the drug has become widely available and cheap, and is on the verge of overtaking methamphetamine as the most predominantly used drug in the region.
"It used to be heroin was an IV drug. And now, we're finding people that are snorting and smoking heroin because the stigma attached with an IV drug user isn't there," said Strahm.
The faces of those addicted to heroin have also changed, Strahm said, with people switching to heroin after initially using and becoming addicted to prescription pain killers.
"Their doctors continually prescribe them until they're physically dependent, and they don't even consider themselves addicted, until the point come when they realize their doctor won't prescribe it anymore," said Lotus Teegarden, a recovering addict who now works as a drug counselor with De Paul Treatment Centers.
Teegarden said she was introduced to opiates as a teenager after a friend stole one of her parents' prescription painkillers. She said the familiarity she developed with opiates made it easier for her to try heroin for the first time.
"I was homeless pretty quickly. Living in my car, living in downtown Portland," said Teegarden.
Strahm said the bulk of Oregon's heroin is smuggled in from Mexico, where drug trafficking organizations have ramped up productions.
"There has been a significant increase in the availability of heroin in Oregon," said Strahm.
Strahm said his agency is focused on cutting off that supply but also recognizes the need for drug treatment and a holistic approach to battling the epidemic.
According to the State Medical Examiner's office, there were 48 heroin-related deaths in Multnomah County just last year.
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