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Tracing the Path from Pills to Heroin

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By Jason Weinstein.
Heroin used to be a drug associated with limited numbers of people in poorer, more urban areas.

"Heroin used to almost be non-existent. It was in very, very small user sets," said New York State Police Captain Patrick Garey.

So what has changed to turn the spread of the drug into an epidemic across socioeconomic lines?

"Most of it relates to pills and opioids as opposed to people bringing in heroin as their first drug of choice," said Garey.

That's exactly how Dannielle Swart's son Sean began his addiction. He's currently in a long-term rehab facility.

"My son's addiction began when someone attacked him, broke his jaw in two places and he had emergency surgery. We didn't understand what he was getting for painkiller purposes," said Swart.

"Physicians were really prescribing a tremendous amount of prescription opiate medication and that's probably where it got started. Then realizing we were in an epidemic as far as the prescription opiates went physicians started to not prescribe so frequently. Once that started to happen, this was created out of that," said Carole Kuklis, substance abuse counselor at the Addiction Center of Broome County.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2004 70,000 people who were dependent on pain medications used heroin. By 2010 that number had jumped to 266,000.

"Not just the kind of addicts you think of in the TV sense of people sitting in an alleyway shooting up because that's not really what they look like. People who have had a sports injury and are now addicted to the painkiller that was legally prescribed, people who are older and have gotten used to a particular pill, they're addicted too," said Swart.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says 54% of heroin users are dependent on non-medical prescription painkillers. Often, heroin can be cheaper than prescription pills.

"If someone has become addicted to a substance they are going to find some way to be able to get high, or to be able to at least delay the withdrawal," said Kuklis.

"Opioids will literally destroy your life. Very few people can dabble in them and not come out addicted. Three days of consecutive use can lead to an addiction," said Alexis Pleus, Founder of Truth Pharm and parent who lost her son to addiction.

Government numbers show one in 15 people who take a non-medical prescription pain reliever will try heroin within ten years.

****In Broome County, Jason Weinstein, Fox 40 HD News.****