Is heroin addiction as close as your medicine cabinet?
December 19, 2013 (WPVI) -- An Action News investigation uncovers an alarming revelation about opiate addiction and the connection between heroin use and prescription medications many of us use every day.
The scourge of heroin continues to spread across the region at a rate that has authorities alarmed.
Heroin is decimating families and tragically ending many young promising lives. But what may be surprising to many is how innocently it began for many families: right in the medicine cabinet.
"We have a problem of epidemic proportions when it comes to opiates," said Roland Lamb of Philadelphia Addiction Services.
"We are seeing seizures of heroin at levels we've never seen before in the state of Pennsylvania," says Special Agent in Charge David Dongilli of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Millions upon millions of dollars of heroin have been seized by authorities in Pennsylvania and across the region.
The purest heroin found anywhere in the country is coming from Colombia.
But the growing demand has produced another supplier: Mexican cartels peddling heroin that is just as pure through their own distribution network.
"We believe the increase in the seizure is a direct result of prescription drug abuse," said Dongilli.
Authorities are seeing people of all ages, including children, middle-aged professionals, and the elderly, talking prescription painkillers like Percocet and Oxycotin and becoming addicted.
Soon the addiction gets to be too expensive, and they turn to heroin. They can purchase a glassine bag envelope on the street with about a tenth of a gram of heroin for $10.
Max Forman is a 26-year-old recovering addict. His nightmare began when he went to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. He was given Percocet for pain. He soon graduated to heroin.
"It is this amazing, warm blanket of just tranquility and comfort," he said.
It has been said that heroin enslaves the soul of a person in a way nothing else can. It leads many to a revolving door of crime.
"The worst hell I could ever imagine," said Max.
According to authorities, 358 people died in Philadelphia last year with heroin in their bloodstreams. That is the highest since 2007.
In Montgomery and Bucks Counties, they are seeing steady increases in heroin-related deaths.
Forman lost 13 of his friends to heroin overdoses before he decided to seek help.
He is now an undergraduate student at Drexel studying Behavioral Health.
His advice to any young person looking for opiate-based painkillers in the medicine cabinet: just walk away.
"I would tell them to close the cabinet and walk away as fast as you can, and never go back. I've been through some horrible things and so much heartbreak," he said.
Lamb, a leading authority on addiction, says it is time to stop stigmatizing people hooked on these drugs and get them the help they desperately need.
"The actuality is that if we don't treat people effectively for this disease of addiction, then we are also exposing the rest of our society - and we are all at risk," he said.
For help with addiction or how to safely discard prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet, call the numbers or visit the link below.
*For people to get help with their addiction:
Philadelphia Office of Addiction Services
Insured with Medicaid: 888-545-2600
Uninsured/Under insured: 215-546-1200
*For people who want to safely discard their prescription opiate drugs, Percocet, Oxycotin, etc:
Action News Investigation, drugs, prescriptions, philadelphia news, local/state, dann cuellar
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