Heroin use in this country is rising at alarming levels. A report from the Centers for Disease Control earlier this summer showed the number of heroin deaths in the United States quadruple between 2002 and 2013. The Georgia Bureau Of Investigation released statistics showing a similar increase in heroin cases on the state level…but what about locally? The Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team confirms that local numbers of heroin arrests and overdoses is indeed on the rise – mirroring those on the national and state level – and as heroin use goes up– the use of other drugs is going down..specifically prescription pills. C.N.T. Agent Gene Harley explained to me – there’s one big reason for that.
Just a few years ago – prescription drug abuse was on the rise…drugs like oxycontin and vicodin illegally obtained and used for a high. Then law enforcement cracked down and pharmaceutical manufacturers changed the pill’s composition – making that much harder to do. Agent Harley explains, “Now we have everyone who has an opiate dependency simply goes back and they’ve still got to get that fix – well they can’t get it through the pill itself anymore – they’re now going to go back to the actual drug itself – in this case heroin.” A base opiate which can give the same high as those drugs – but much faster and cheaper says Agent Harley, “The street value was up to one dollar per milligram – so essentially a pill could be up to thirty dollars – in some cases even went up to 35 dollars a pill when it became even harder to get a hold of these.”
So many of those hooked turned to the street drug causing a huge spike in arrests and overdoses says Harley, “We’re seeing that most of these people – in our interviews with them say that they were originally abusing the drugs that we talked about – since they can’t get that – this is what they’ve gone to now – cause they simply cannot kick that opiate dependency that their body became used to…here we are in August and we’ve had approximately 40 heroin related arrests here in Chatham County…since the beginning of the year – year to date. Last year our total number for true heroin was somewhere around four.” Just a couple of years ago – he says they were averaging about a hundred arrests a year for prescription drugs.
News 3 reached out to both the Candler-St. Joseph’s and Memorial Health hospitals to try to get some numbers on overdoses – and whether they’re seeing an increase in those related to heroin. While we were not able to get specific numbers – Memorial’s emergency doctors say they *have seen an increase in heroin overdoses in the last six months to a year. Both St. Joseph’s and Candler report increases in overdoses this calendar year – though they don’t track them by specific drug.