BRISTOL, Penn. – Last week when we explored Ohio’s new drug “gravel” and the issues for heroin addicts seeking out treatment with not enough resources, we noticed the same pattern we’ve seen in the previous State of Affairs articles: a crack-down on prescription painkiller abuse that led to the cheaper, more accessible heroin. Pennsylvania is no different, but underneath the epidemic lies a sinister marketing strategy that’s banking on overdoses.
This is our 4th consecutive year heroin has surpassed alcohol as the drug of choice,” says David Fialko with the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania.
Currently the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana is illegal, but a bill is making its way through the senate to legalize its medical use.
The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania is a 40 year old nonprofit that provides prevention and recovery support services including free assessments, family education programs, and case management. They say there’s a high percentage of people in need in the state. The organization worked alongside the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission to pass Act 139, a bill that allows first responders, law enforcement and other organizations and even friends and family members the ability to administer naloxone (an antidote for heroin overdoses), and provides immunity from prosecution of those who know someone is using heroin.
Pictured: Commissioners, District Attorney’s Office participate in Narcotic Rescue Public Safety Rollout
“This allows doctors to prescribe Naloxone to any person who could potentially save a life,” says Fialko. “A person can go to the doctor and say they think the kid that mows their lawn may have a heroin problem and they can get a prescription to be prepared should that person overdose.”
Other states like Delaware have armed their police with Naloxone. Recently the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations distributed it to their agents involved in drug busts. The Bucks County DA’s office has been distributing Naloxone to the Police Departments throughout Bucks County since February 12. These efforts are in part funded by The Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, the non-profit Steps to Recovery and the DA’s office. Distribution and training is overseen by The Councils Overdose Prevention and Education Advisory Board.
“A recent study shows 6.1% of high school seniors are abusing pain relievers,” says Fialko. “That means 6 out of 100 students.”
The most commonly abused drug in the high school age kids is marijuana, which has a lower perceived level of harm and lower potential for addiction than heroin and pain killers, but nonetheless addictive.
“Prescription drugs are very dangerous and highly addictive,” says Fialko. “Even though you may not see the damage in someone’s face, psychologically they are addicted.”
Another recent study in Pennsylvania says 25% of those who try heroin become addicted. MDVP (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone) is a psychoactive drug now seen a lot in the Pennsylvania club scene, sometimes found in the common drug Ecstasy.
Our state-by-state analysis has revealed a common trend:
- A state sees an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse
- The state enacts a prescription monitoring law
- It becomes harder for addicts to get their supply of pills
- They turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and more easily accessible
- The state sees a widespread heroin epidemic
“For example, people addicted to pain meds can now only get 15 or so pills instead of 60,” says Fialko. “They can get a $5-$10 1/10 gram bag of heroin that’s 30-75% pure.”
It’s not just a retail-type of savings. The drug industry is all about marketing. Sexy names like Molly and Tina. Molly and Tina are slang for Ecstasy. Some slang names for heroin are “Smooth” and “Brown Sugar”. Everyone always asks “How can an educated, well adjusted person turn to sticking needles in her arms?” Smokeable heroin is not quite as unsightly. Cut with brick dust or other agents, snorting is even an option. Sooner or later, they’re not just using to get high, but to keep from getting sick. Even more sinister, the dealers are hoping for an overdose.
“Drug dealers will put a ‘hot bag’ of laced with something more intense like acetyl fentanyl making that bag up to 20 times more potent,” says Fialko. “Somebody’s found dead of an overdose with a needle in their arm in a certain area and you naturally think ‘that’s where the bad drugs are’, but in an addict’s mind, they are thinking ‘that’s where the good stuff is’ and it draws users to that area.”
The drug industry is using death as a billboard to advertise their product. And what used to be mostly an adult problem in Pennsylvania is now a problem for teens. Fialko says the majority of overdoses they are seeing are between the ages of 16 and 30. Most of the bags come through the Philly area.
“They’ll get 12 bags for $100, keep 2 or 3 bags and sell the rest for $15 a bag,” says Fialko. “When supply goes down, price goes up.”
And a $10 bag of heroin does what about $80 worth of pills do.
Fialko says if there’s one thing they stand behind, it’s that knowledge is power. The Council has worked closely with the DA’s office in Bucks County on the problem.
“Parents believe they don’t have to have the talk,” says Fialko. “They think because their kid is magna cum laude or quarterback of the football team that they know better or will be reluctant to try new drugs. If we can educate people enough to stop the number of new users, we can treat the remaining addicted.”
The Council’s message is to ask for help. Recovery IS possible. The Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission has also been working to provide preventative measures. The organization distributed 31 drop boxes for old prescriptions, more than any other county in the state, and is responsible for partnering on Pennsylvania’s Close the Cabinet campaign.
“In Bucks County our job is a multi-pronged approach,” says Spokesperson Diane Rosati. “Prevention. Treatment. Recovery.”
Vertava Health has gotten several calls and treated multiple patients from the Pennsylvania area. If you or someone you know is battling addiction, let us get you the help you need at 1.888.614.2251. Don’t become the next billboard for a dealer to cash in on.
Mr. David Fialko, BS, CTTS is a Prevention Specialist at The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc. He has over 12 years of experience working in the addiction prevention and recovery field. His experience includes work as an intensive outpatient counselor, adventure-based counselor, mental health counselor, prevention specialist and educator. His involvement with multiple systems keeps him informed of current trends in drug abuse, health issues and addiction science across the ages. He currently provides services that include counseling, education and awareness of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs (ATOD) to youth, adults, families and professionals through counseling, speaking engagements, presentations, health fairs, school based groups, family strengthening programs, and information dissemination. David also oversees the Bucks County Overdose Prevention and Education Advisory Board.
About Vertava Health: Vertava Health provides the most comprehensive addiction treatment program in the country by going beyond the standard 30 day plan and treating persons struggling with addiction mentally and spiritually to break the cycle of repeated visits to treatment. Utilizing our addiction campus environment we have the depth of caring staff, industry experience and clinical proficiency to effectively treat the disease of addiction for life. Vertava Health’ admissions center is trained to assess and place the client into one of the Vertava Health treatment centers across the country within a 1 hour time frame. This speed in service delivery and thorough commitment to the client long term allows the person struggling with addiction to get quickly on the road to recovery and create a life that’s worth living.