RENO, NV - A few years ago, meth was the drug everyone was talking about in northern Nevada. In 2007, local television stations aired the 30-minute documentary 'Crystal Darkness' to inform families about the dangers of the drug.
Now the attention has shifted. The recent death of esteemed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has pushed the drug heroin into the limelight. Unfortunately in Nevada, the highly addictive drug has been slowly growing in popularity for the past few years, and has replaced meth as the drug of choice for many people. Experts say the shift can be linked to prescription pill use. Kevin Quint, the executive director for Join Together Northern Nevada, says while other drugs are still being used, they are seeing more and more people come in seeking help for heroin addiction.
"It's definitely the drug on the rise, and we need to keep an eye on it," he said.
For Kelli Davis, heroin addiction is a battle she fights daily. She first became addicted to prescription pill 10 years ago. Now at 24, she has been in and out of jail and rehab, battling an addiction that all started because of a dealer's lie.
"I was that person who said I'm never going to do heroine, I'm never going to do hard drugs," she said. "Someone had told me it was opium and by the time I realized what it was, it was too late."
Eric Hare, a counselor at the Center for Behavioral Health in Reno says Kelli's story is common. The CBH offers treatment programs for people addicted to opiates such as OxyContin, Lortab, Vicodin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Heroin. Hare says in the past few years, more and more people are coming to them for help battling their heroin addiction.
"There's been a huge increase,not just in the use of heroin, but opiate pain relievers, Vicodin, OxyContin," he said. "And a lot of [the heroin use] especially in younger people, can be traced to the use of prescription drugs. There's a lot of it in Carson City."
Experts say some people turn to heroin because they see it as a cheaper alternative to prescription pills, but when the addiction takes over, that's when the cost adds up.
"It's about $10- $15 a point," Quint said. "That sounds kind of cheap. But then when you use it 3, 4, 5, 10 times a day, just do the math. That becomes a hundred plus dollars a day.
Consider this statistic. According to the Reno Police Department, the amount of heroin the Regional Street Enforcement Team seizing yearly has jumped. In 2007, when meth was still the most common drug, 59 grams of heroin were seized. Just five years later, in 2012, 1632.5 grams of heroin were seized.
Another reason heroin is so dangerous, no one buying the drug on the street knows exactly what they are getting, and a "bad batch" can easily lead to an overdose.
According to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, in 2008, for every 100,000 people in Nevada, about 20 people died for a heroin overdose.
"I can tell you with pretty good assurance, that number has gone up since then," Hare said. "It's harder for people to recover from heroin addiction, than it is meth addiction. But I believe if you can survive the communicable diseases like Hepatitis C, which is also on the rise, you have a good chance of recovery."
But Hare stresses that recovery is not easy or quick.
"A lot of people come in looking for the quick 30 day detox," he said. "That length of time, the success rate is incredibly small."
Davis has been clean now for 4 months. Before her last relapse, she had been clean two years. She says hearing about heroin related deaths like Philip Seymour Hoffman scares her because she knows if she relapsed again it could mean life or death.
"I do work a 12 step program, and I'm in counseling," she said. "It's a daily battle. It's about progress now, not perfection. Do I know that I'm never going to use again? No, I don't think that. I know today I'm not going to. But if it wasn't for the support of my family, I don't know if I would be here."
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, both Join Together Northern Nevada and the Center for Behavioral Health have resources available to help.
For more information visit:
Join Together Northern Nevada: www.jtnn.org
The Center for Behavioral Health: www.centerforbehavioralhealth.com