Heroin use is on the rise again in the Flathead Valley, along with an increase in out-of-state methamphetamine, according to law enforcement and health officials.
“Yes, heroin’s probably been on the rise the last year or two,” Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said. “We’re also seeing a lot of meth.”
Curry said the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force has had a slight increase in drug arrests lately, but the amount of heroin and meth seized in these busts has been much larger than in the past.
Meth was on the decline for a few years, Curry said, largely due to more control on the drug’s precursors, such as tracking pseudoephedrine purchases. That meant fewer local people could cook meth, he said, but it seemed to have created a vacancy in the market.
Where there’s demand, Curry said, there will inevitably be supply, and the task force is seeing more and more meth from out of town.
“We’ve seen a lot of meth coming out of Mexico now,” Curry said. “Also from Washington state.”
As for heroin, Curry said the task force has found a direct link between people who abuse prescription opiates, such as OxyContin, and those who are now abusing heroin.
Both are opiates, and when prescription drugs get expensive or harder to get on the street, heroin becomes a more attractive option because it gives a similar high for a cheaper price.
“If you can’t get one, you’ll go for the other,” Curry said.
An increase in heroin abuse is a national trend as prescription drug abuse continues to grow. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services drug use survey from 2012, there were roughly 470,000 people who reported heroin dependence, up from a reported 214,000 in 2002.
At the Flathead Community Health Center, disease intervention specialist Linda Bodick has been working with drug users for nearly 30 years, and is familiar with many in the illicit drug scene in the valley who have come to her for sexually transmitted disease testing.
“They’ll come in for testing, and they’ll hear something from out in the neighborhood,” Bodick said. “I’m not having the rush (of people needing testing) that I would like to see for what I’m hearing out there.”
With increased heroin use comes increased use of needles, she said. And while many of the people she works with use clean needles, they may not know they can still transfer blood-borne diseases by using the same spoons, cotton and other drug paraphernalia as other users.
“It’s the equipment and the process of getting ready to use the drug,” she said.
Bodick also said she’s seen an increase of people moving back and forth between meth and heroin – using the heroin to come down from the meth, and using the meth to get back up from the heroin use.
Given the way that heroin affects the brain as a central nervous system depressant, too much of the drug can make the brain stop sending messages to body to keep the heart beating and to keep breathing, and the person dies of an overdose.
Bodick said many of the clients she sees have reported that prescription opiates are getting harder to find or afford. She also said she’s seen a resurgence in the bad skin associated with meth use.
“Their skin is so broken,” she said.
Anyone seeking free STD testing is asked to call Linda Bodick directly at 751-8156.
“If anybody has concerns and questions, please feel free to call,” she said.
For more information on drugs and their effects, visit www.getsmartaboutdrugs.com, a site from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
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