Michigan heroin use, OD deaths increase

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan is seeing a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly prescription drugs to the cheaper alternative.

“The typical path you see with opiate addicts is that they start by abusing the prescription pain killers and then they become addicted to those pills,” Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Rich Isaacson explained. “That addiction can be very expensive because those pills on the street are very expensive. They will frequently devolve into using heroin because they can buy packs of heroin, hits of heroin on the street for much cheaper.”

Isaacson said some of the prescription drug pills can sell for a dollar per milligram — so 80 milligrams could sell for as high as $80. Heroin can be bought on the street for around $8 or $10.

Recent statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health show heroin overdose deaths in Michigan increased from 271 in the four-year period of 1999 to 2002 to 728 between 2010 and 2012.

The Kent County Medical Examiner report shows there has been a significant increase in heroin use over the past five years in Kent County alone.

“I liked drinking and partying a lot. I liked smoking pot and if I liked that stuff, I figured I would like other drugs more. I started with prescription pills and then injecting prescription pills, injecting Oxycontin and then moved to heroin,” former heroin user Brandon Hool told 24 Hour News 8.

Hool said the people he used to use with were friends who had jobs and an education.

“The people I’ve been taught to think of who were using drugs, what they look like, that they’d be living on the streets and shooting up on the sidewalk, dying in the gutters, those were not the people I was using with,” Hool said.

Now the father to a 2-year-old, Hool has been clean for four years and hopes his story will help deter others from going down a similar path.

Special Agent Isaacson said the problem is not specific to any specific demographic.

“This is affecting all races, all socioeconomic groups. What a lot of people consider the wealthier suburbs, they certainly have their overdose heroin issues and overdose deaths, as well,” said Isaacson.

The Michigan House of Representatives and Senate have both passed bills to allow easier access to naloxone, a prescription drug that can reverse the effects of a lethal heroin overdose. It would also put good Samaritan laws into place to eliminate liability for someone who administers the anti-overdose drug in good faith.

The House and Senate still need to agree on language and the same bill needs to pass in both chambers.

“There isn’t enough access to this medication as there should be as evidence by so many people dying of opiate overdoses when there is this antidote that could be available to reverse and save people’s lives,” said Steve Alsum, the executive director of the Grand Rapids Red Project.

As of July 2014, 25 states had similar laws in effect.

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