The drug that killed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has a bigger presence than ever on the streets of Durham.
Heroin, a highly addictive opiate, is becoming the drug of choice for many local users, said BAART Community Healthcare clinic director Ken Haggard. The Durham-based clinic, which specializes in treating opiate addicts, is seeing a rise in heroin patients and patients are getting younger and younger, Haggard said.
“We have definitely seen a drop in the age,” Haggard said. “Nationally, I have seen numbers as low as 13 years old.”
Haggard said the spike in the drug’s popularity could be attributed to its affordability and potency. Youth are moving away from prescription drugs, which are expensive and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and toward heroin, he said.
There have been no heroin-related arrests at the University this year, wrote Chief of Duke Police John Dailey in an email Thursday.
Kammie Michael, public information officer for the Durham Police Department, wrote in an email Saturday that the city is working to curb the city’s heroin problem.
“In 2013, investigators from the Durham Police Department’s Special Operations Division confiscated 1,948.7 grams of heroin compared to 275.45 grams in 2012,” Michael wrote. “Investigators made several significant heroin trafficking arrests in 2013.”
Michael added that most heroin in Durham originates in the northern part of the country.
The two demographic groups most likely to use heroin are residents of urban areas in which the drugs are sold and people who have experience with prescription opiates, wrote Cynthia Kuhn, a professor of pharmacology, psychiatry, behavioral sciences and cancer biology in an email. She noted the areas where the drug is most widespread include Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City, and that Florida and Kentucky are the states in which it is easiest to obtain prescription drugs.
Kuhn said that although heroin use is not widespread at the University, she knows there are students who have experimented with the drug.
“One of the most useful things [the federal government is] doing is to try to shut down ‘pill mills’—physician practices which will give out prescriptions for narcotic drugs even over the internet,” she wrote.
Kuhn attributed the use of the drug to the availability of prescription opiates.
“We are seeing people who need so much of drugs like oxycodone each day that they try heroin because it is cheaper,” she wrote in an email Friday.
Michael noted the police department is working to educate the community about the dangers of heroin use through outreach projects such as the Police Athletic League and school children mentoring.
Haggard said educating the community, particularly youths, will be key in solving the city’s drug problem.
“We are licensed to treat from 18 years [old] and up,” he said. “Our patients abuse—not use, abuse—for about three years before their first treatment attempt. Many do because they don’t know what they are dealing with.”