Heroin Use Increasing Among Utah Teens, Young Adults

Heroin Use Increasing Among Utah Teens, Young Adults

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah teenagers and young adults are getting into heroin, narcotics officers say.

No race, religion or class is spared, they say. Churchgoers, returned missionaries and youths who have never touched alcohol or marijuana are shooting, snorting and smoking heroin.

"It knows no boundaries," said Lt. Mike Forshee of the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force. "Everybody: rich, poor, middle class. It's taken them all."

The young users often have first used prescription medicines, mainly the painkiller OxyContin.

They either steal their parents' prescriptions or buy it from schoolmates who stole it from their parents or purchased it on the street, said Sgt. Kevin Matthews of the Salt Lake County sheriff's Neighborhood Narcotic Unit.

They crush the pills to take away the drug's time-release effects.

"They're going to get immediate results by snorting it, and in some cases, they're injecting it," Matthews said.

Young users think it' not as bad as heroin, said Sgt. Ryan Atack of the Salt Lake City Police Department Narcotics Squad.

"They all eventually switch to heroin," said Mike O'Reilly, a former methamphetamine addict who runs a treatment center in Orem.

He said his center, Clear Living, has been forced to turn away at least six heroin users because they were under 18. In June, O'Reilly got a call from a mother who said her 14-year old had been doing heroin for two years.

Atack said young people often move from OxyContin to heroin within two weeks, mainly because heroin costs less, and some believe it gives them a more-intense high. OxyContin sells on the street for about $1 per milligram, or $80 per 80 mg pill, while users can buy enough heroin to shoot up once for $20 to $40, Atack said.

Users can build up tolerances to the drug very quickly, but first-time users are being introduced to heroin in doses too high for their bodies to handle. The young users also don't understand that they can lose their tolerance even after a brief absence from the drug.

Chronic use can cause several illnesses, including collapsed veins, liver disease, pneumonia, cloudy mental functioning and slowed breathing --to the point of respiratory failure, according to the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy.

"Heroin is so addictive you can't use it recreationally," Matthews said. The young users don't have a clue as to what the doses should be, he said.

Some go through withdrawal even after one heroin hit.

Utah's heroin is being transported directly from Mexico, according to the Utah Drug Threat Assessment, published in 2003 by the federal National Drug Intelligence Center.

The Utah County Major Crimes Task Force is seeing a rise in the amount of heroin it is seizing. Last year, it seized 1 pound of heroin, which was more than the total seized from 2000 to 2003.

In the first half of this year, it seized nearly 8 pounds.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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