NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Some states, including Tennessee, are reporting a rise in heroin use as prescription drug addicts shift from more costly and increasingly harder-to-come-by pain pills to this cheaper alternative. Here's a look at what's happening in Tennessee:
Police and health officials say that abuse of prescription painkillers is still the biggest drug problem in Tennessee, but it's also linked to the resurgence of heroin in the state. Tennessee has historically had one of the highest prescription drug abuse rates in the country.
"I think, unfortunately, until we get a handle on the pill issue we're going to have this heroin issue," said Michael Stanfill, assistant special agent in charge of the Tennessee office of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. "They go hand in hand. You can't say, 'Hey, let's go out and attack this heroin issue without looking at the pill issue.' "
The supply of heroin, which is mainly coming from the Mexican cartels, is on the rise across the state, Stanfill said.
Mexican cartels are well aware that Tennessee has been plagued with prescription drug abuse, and they are targeting pill addicts specifically by selling heroin that is far cheaper, the DEA agent said.
Numbers in Tennessee are hard to come by. State Health Department Officials say overdose deaths from heroin and painkillers are lumped into the same category, so it's impossible to tell if there is an increase in the number of people who are dying because of the heroin. Limited state figures, however, point to more demand for heroin addiction treatment.
Records show that from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2013 there was an increase from 217 to 396 people seeking state-funded treatment for heroin. The records don't reflect demand for treatment at private drug rehabilitation facilities across the state. A spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse said in an email to The Associated Press that records of requests for addiction treatment at state-funded centers only go back to 2011.
Police worry that resurgence in the use of heroin is going to lead to more overdose deaths, higher crimes rates, more children sent to foster care because of addicted parents and the rise of more babies born dependent on heroin. Nashville police have said that a rise in heroin in Music City has been fueling property crimes and thefts as heroin addicts steal to get the money to pay for their high.