Maine's effort to curb prescription drug abuse has resulted in the implementation of an effective prescription monitoring program and reduced the number of pharmacy robberies. While praising its success, police and public health officials are concerned that this crackdown may have diverted resources from battling other illegal substances, especially heroin.
According to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services the number of overdoses caused by the drug tripled between 2011 and 2012. In addition, police have already made 99 heroin-related arrests in the first five months of 2013 and it is assumed that the total number for the year will be much higher than 2012's 127.
With more restrictions being placed on the distribution of prescription narcotics, opioids like diazepam are hydrocodone are harder to obtain on the street and are increasing in price. Addicts are turning to heroin because of its accessibility.
"If one illicit drug is reduced another will take its place," said drug counselor Brent Miller to Bangor, Maine NBC affiliate WLBZ. "The problem is not going away. People who have an addiction will always seek drugs."
Heroin poses a somewhat larger threat because of its inconsistency and the manner in which it is used. Drug dealers mix and dilute the substance with unsterile materials. Maine state epidemiologist Stephen Sears told the Bangor Daily News that unknowing users are "potentially injecting bacteria" into their bodies. A state survey showed that over 83 percent of heroin users said that they only ingested the drug intravenously and 30 percent admitted to sharing needles. Syringe usage increases the risk of spreading or contacting diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
The state is unsure of how to approach this problem. The number of Maine residents being treated for heroin addiction has had several peaks and lows over the past 15 years. Because heroin abusers in the state tend to be older, some law enforcement officials speculate the issue will resolve itself as teens are unlikely to try the substance.
If you suspect that a member of your family is using heroin, you need to intervene. With the help of Intervention Services, you can work with a trained drug abuse intervention specialist who knows how to handle such a situation.