Police: Idaho Rx drug abuse leads to heroin abuse

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NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — The public, the medical community and law enforcement have become increasingly aware of prescription drug abuse, Idaho State Police Lt. Steve Davis said, and that's a good thing.

But getting a handle on that problem has led to unintended side effects, Davis said — those who are already hooked are turning to other sources to feed their addiction. And in too many cases, he said, that means heroin. The suppliers of illegal narcotics have taken notice, meanwhile, and Davis said they're exploiting the opportunity.

"The Mexican cartels saw this as a marketing opportunity and buried the Northwest with some very potent and cheap heroin," Davis said. "So they're taking this population that is addicted to these synthetic opiates, and then punching in the heroin."

According to information provided by the Idaho State Police, 13.2 grams of heroin were seized in 2011. That number jumped to 5.57 pounds in 2012, and then dropped to 0.17 pounds in 2013.

But Idaho State Police public information officer Teresa Baker said that's only seizures that meet the minimum reporting threshold set by the Domestic Highway Enforcement strategy, a partnership of federal, state, local and tribal agencies. No information on smaller seizures is available, Baker said.

County-level information on heroin seizures is not available, Canyon County public information officer Joe Decker said, because local prosecutors don't categorize cases by type of drug.

A majority of Canyon County's drug cases, Decker said, still involve methamphetamine.

In many cases, these people don't fit the drug addict stereotype. They didn't set out to become addicted, Davis said. They're often well-educated, upstanding professionals whom no one would hesitate to invite to a backyard barbecue.

"I've been doing narcotics work for over 19 years," Davis said. "It still bothers me to see where some of these people were, and unknowingly started down this path, and they can't get out. You'll see people with pills and heroin, and that's where the transition starts. And then all of a sudden, it'll just be the heroin."

They may have started out on a pain management treatment under the proper supervision of a doctor, Davis said. But as medical professionals become more cautious about how they prescribe painkillers, some are left with a craving and no legitimate way to scratch the itch.

Canyon County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Mike Armstrong said that while there's always been heroin in the western Treasure Valley, he's seen a noticeable jump recently.

"In my opinion, we're seeing a rise in heroin because of the pill situation," Armstrong said. "Abusing pills is roughly the same high as you're going to get abusing heroin. Well, pills are getting expensive. You're talking 30-45 bucks a pill. So now, as an alternative, they're going to get heroin."

So what's the solution? Davis thinks the same thing that's helped bring methamphetamine use under control in recent years will help here as well: Public awareness. Residents need to know the dangers, and medical professionals need to learn how to manage their patients' pain management regimens, tapering down slowly so they're not faced with insurmountable cravings.

Both of these things are already happening, Davis said.

"The more educated you are, the better you are at making your own decisions," Davis said.

And it's not the addicts and potential addicts who need to be informed and involved, he added — it's everyone who knows and cares about them.

"Let's say that your brother is on a pain regimen, and you notice that all of a sudden the pain meds are more frequent," Davis said. "There needs to be participation from the people that are closest to him to help him. Because at some point, those people aren't really making rational decisions about what's happening to them."

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Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com

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