The “Dirty” Heroin Epidemic


By David Cottrell and Sarrah J. Woods

While it is widely known that heroin is one of the most physically addictive drugs, not as many people realize that the heroin epidemic in the U.S. is growing by leaps and bounds.  Heroin has become a cheaper alternative to opioids and other drugs; and as law enforcement officials crack down on prescription drug abuse, medical “pill mills” and meth houses, more and more drugs users are turning to heroin to get their fix.

Overdose deaths from heroin abuse have gone up dramatically.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 30,000 deaths annually can be attributed to heroin overdoses.  Heroin has even become the leading cause of accidental death for the 25 to 64 age group.

Fortunately, there is now a new tool on the market now for emergency responders to use in heroin overdose cases.  Naloxone nasal spray is now being used in many larger urban areas with major heroin overdose problems.  If used in time, it can work in as little as twenty to thirty seconds to counteract the effects of the heroin.

But unfortunately, there is also a new way that drug dealers are distributing heroin that makes it even more deadly: they mix it with a drug called fentanyl, a synthetic opiate much stronger than morphine and other similar drugs.  Heroin has always been mixed or cut with other substances to dilute it and make a small amount go further; users never know exactly what they are getting from dealers in terms of strength and added ingredients.  But now dealers are adding in Fentanyl to give the heroin a huge boost in strength.  The result is “dirty” heroin.  (Some street names include “Theraflu,” “China White,” and “Bud Ice.”)

The reason “dirty” heroin is so deadly is that fentanyl is about fifty to a hundred times stronger than heroin.  It is extremely fast-acting, and too much can shut down breathing almost instantly.  In fact, it acts so quickly that many overdose victims are found with the needles still in their arms.

To compound the situation, much of the fentanyl being distributed illegally is also being manufactured illegally, rather than simply stolen from pharmacies or hospitals.

As hard as authorities work to try to curtail the illegal drug market, this problem is not going to go away any time soon.  Rather, it is getting worse and worse each day.  We need to be aware of this “dirty” heroin epidemic so we can help protect our children and loved ones from falling into its grip.