Massachusetts Communities Grapple with Potent Heroin

Cheaper, purer, easily obtainable heroin is a growing problem in urban and suburban communities in Massachusetts, the Associated Press reported July 1.

"Five to six years ago, heroin was barely a blip as far as courts, police, and detoxes were concerned," said Jack Leary, assistant chief probation officer at South Boston District Court. Now, he said, heroin use is "just a mountain" on the charts.

The purity of New England heroin is about 90 percent, compared to the national average of 57 percent.

The problem is being experienced along the entire East Coast. But in Massachusetts, where drug-treatment programs have been severely cut across the state because of budget problems, the crisis is even more evident.

"On any given day, an unknown number of patients may get turned away due to lack of funding and lack of availability," said Robert Azeez, clinical supervisor of the Carlson Recovery Center at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

Further compounding the issue is that people who previously were misusing OxyContin to get a heroin-like high are now turning to the newer, purer heroin because it is cheaper. According to Anthony Pettigrew, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), OxyContin costs about $20 to $80 a pill, while heroin costs about $4 a bag.

Between 2002 and 2003, Pettigrew said, DEA arrests in Massachusetts have increased more than 15 percent, while nationally such arrests have declined by 25 percent. In addition, state police records for 2002, the most recent year statistics were available, indicate a 20-percent increase in possession, distribution, and trafficking of heroin.


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