Our View: Utah's increasing heroin problem

Tuesday , April 15, 2014 - 1:10 PM

Editorial Board, Standard-Examiner

Utah has a real problem with heroin use. Utah’s problem with heroin mirrors the rest of the nation.

Heroin use ruins lives. It can also be fatal, as we learn from the heavy news coverage of the occasional celebrity who overdoses on the illegal drug.

Look at these stats over the past generation: In 1993, the Utah Department of Human Services logged 346 treatment admissions, or 2 percent of all drug admissions. Last year, there were 2,606 heroin admissions, or 20 percent. And these numbers do not include those who paid for heroin treatment with private funds. Also, heroin abusers are getting younger. About 20 percent of those admitted into the Project Reality substance abuse center in Salt Lake City are under 23.

The key reason that heroin is gaining in popularity is it’s cheap. Its resurgence over the past generation can be tied to the growth of persons abusing prescription pain medication. As pain medication addiction gets higher, the addicts discover they can’t afford to buy OxyContin, or other drugs. They switch to heroin, which provides a similar high. Heroin is much, much cheaper than the pain pills.

This is chilling. Heroin sold on the street is not regulated, of course. These addicts are dancing with disease and death as they deal with heroin. It’s literally a fall to the gutter.

We have to reduce heroin use. But to do that, we also have to reduce dependency on pain pills. They are connected in the battle against drug abuse.

Gov. Gary Herbert has signed laws that will help. One grants immunity from drugs-related prosecution to someone who reports an overdose. The other provides immunity from those who try to treat a heroin overdose by providing naloxone, an FDA-approved antidote, to a victim.

Friends and family members of pain pill and heroin addicts can also help. Confront the abuser on his or her abuse. Do what you can to relieve them from the hell they are living.

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