Heroin, the “City Drug”
In the 1980s, when heroin use was highly popular, the vast majority of heroin sales occurred in major cities like Los Angeles and New York City. Heroin therefore became known as a “city drug.” Heroin provided a powerful “high” at a fairly affordable price and was commonly found in more indigent communities, especially among teenagers and the homeless. In suburban areas, alcohol abuse was the main concern of authorities.
Heroin is an opiate derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin is most often a brown powder, sold in small ziplock bags, but may also be a white powder or black tar. Heroin can be ingested in a variety of ways – snorting, smoking, and injection. The most infamous format is injection by hypodermic needle directly into the blood stream. This allows the drug to infiltrate the brain quickly, bring on a rapid onset high. Users that inject commonly have track marks on their arm, a tell-tale sign of heroin use. A heroin high restricts oxygen to the brain, causing extreme euphoria and drowsiness. One quarter of users are addicted to heroin.
Heroin Spreads to the Suburbs
Many law enforcement agencies once thought heroin was a lower class drug, largely confined to urban areas. However, an influx of heroin in suburban communities among young teenagers has begun to pop up across the country.
Many teens experimenting with drugs begin with prescription painkillers, like Oxycontin. These drugs are often readily available in home medicine cabinets. Like heroin, prescription painkillers are highly addictive. Teens become dependent on the painkiller, and when the medicine cabinet supply runs out, they become desperate for new sources of drugs.
While it is by no means difficult to find prescription pain pills on the street, one Oxycontin pill can cost as much as $60 per prescription. Heroin, which provides a similar high, is much cheaper – as low as $3 per bag. Teenagers have limited income. Therefore, police are now seeing more and more kids switching to heroin when their prescription painkiller supply runs dry.
Authorities surmise that city kids know not to touch heroin due to aggressive campaigns and education in lower income communities in urban areas. However, suburban kids did not receive this same awareness training. As such, Chicago Police Captain John Roberts, whose own son passed away after overdosing on heroin, believes that the key to attacking this epidemic is to provide drug awareness and addiction treatment in suburban communities. Law enforcement officials hope this will lower addiction and overdose rates and decrease the likelihood of teenagers facing arrest for possession of heroin or prescription painkillers.
Authored by Jessica Long, LegalMatch Legal Writer