A look at heroin use in Nebraska

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Some states are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. Here's a look at what's happening in Nebraska:

THE PROBLEM:

While health officials say the illegal drug of choice in Nebraska continues to be methamphetamine, there is concern among law enforcement that a jump in prescription drug abuse in recent years could drive those drug abusers to seek out heroin, a much cheaper opiate.

THE NUMBERS:

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services says that from 2000 through 2010, less than 1 percent of drug abusers seeking treatment in Nebraska for alcohol and drug abuse were seeking help for heroin addiction.

For example, of the more than 17,600 people seeking treatment in Nebraska in 2012, only 106 sought treatment for heroin. By comparison, more than 2,000 sought treatment for amphetamines, while another nearly 1,400 battled marijuana use.

RAMIFICATIONS:

Police in Nebraska's largest cities — Omaha and Lincoln — have expressed concern that heroin use could be on the rise there. While Omaha police haven't seen a major increase in heroin use or trafficking, they have seen a shift in the demographic of heroin users and dealers, according to Lt. Darci Tierney, spokeswoman for the department. Heroin users are now much younger and located in the city's wealthy neighborhoods, and the sellers are more violent. Police are also starting to see different kinds of heroin, with names like "black tar," ''China white" and "Mexican brown."

"We ... found the young users all had the same story," Tierney said. "They had gotten addicted to RX pain killers and ended up heroin addicts."

In Lincoln, police became alarmed last year when three people overdosed on heroin in a two-week period in October. One of the overdose victims, 34-year-old Jamie Therriault, died. Another woman was arrested and charged with facilitating the purchase of the heroin that killed Therriault. A month later, a man was arrested at a downtown Lincoln hotel, and police said they found him with 116 grams of heroin and over $14,000 in cash. He has been indicted on federal drug charges. Since then, there have been no heroin overdoses in Lincoln, but police continue to find small amounts of heroin on the street, said spokeswoman Katie Flood.

Like in Omaha, Lincoln narcotics officers are seeing what little heroin use there is in the city migrate to younger, wealthier people, Flood said.

"Heroin was being consumed in the same quantity as other illegal drugs; however, heroin has a much stronger effect on the body," she said. And, she added, "The level of heroin purity can change with each batch."

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