RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Some states, including North Carolina, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in North Carolina:
"There's a certain segment of the population that misuses and abuses prescription drug medications and that ends up being a gateway to other things," said Scott K. Proescholdbell, who heads a public health surveillance unit at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
"What we understand is that the cost of heroin has gone down, and so the street value, for those individuals who are willing to switch, it seems like it's probably economically in their advantage to do so."
But there have also been reports in the state of heroin users consuming painkilling pills, he said, so addicts are not moving only in one direction.
In the decade beginning in 1999, North Carolina averaged 53 deaths a year from drug overdoses, with the final year of that decade the outlier with 81 fatalities, according to data from death certificates compiled by the State Center for Health Statistics. The drug's deadly effects have expanded since then. Deaths then rose to 81 in 2009; 85 in 2011; and 160 in 2012. The total fell to 106 last year, though not all post-mortem drug tests are finalized for 2013. None have been recorded yet in 2014.
Ninety percent of the recorded victims of heroin overdoses last year were white; white victims have made up eight out of 10 victims or more for the past 15 years.
The counties where heroin deaths concentrated in 2013 were Mecklenburg with 14; New Hanover, 12; Guilford, 10; Durham, 9; Wake, 7; and Gaston, 6.
North Carolina is among 18 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted a law or developed a pilot program allowing medical professionals or average people to administer medication that reverses the effects of an opiate-related overdose. The law provides legal immunity to someone who provides a drug such as naloxone that counteracts the effects of heroin, OxyContin and other powerful painkillers.