Cheaper heroin showing up in Eastern Kentucky as crackdown on pain pills makes that trade less attractive

About 60 grams of heroin, worth about
$8,000. (AP photo)

It was only few months ago that Northern Kentucky law enforcement officers and substance abuse clinics began expressing grave concern that heroin was fast becoming the go-to drug in their region. Today, there are signs that the drug is already moving swiftly east, into the already drug-ravaged mountains of Eastern Kentucky. The reason for the uptick in heroin use? Because pain pills aren’t as available anymore.

Federal and state law enforcement have been cracking down on the prescription pain-pill drug trade for years in these parts. They’ve created electronic prescription-tracking systems, staked out pain management clinics and shut down a drug pipeline that starts in Florida. Some argue that last year’s passage of House Bill 1 has discouraged even legitimate doctors from prescribing pain drugs. All these things make heroin usage an unintended consequence of their success, officials fear.

 “There’s always some type of drug to step up when another gets taken out,” Dan Smoot, law enforcement director of Operation UNITE, which handles drug investigations in 29 Eastern Kentucky counties, told Brett Barrouquere of The Associated Press. “We didn’t know it was going to be heroin. We knew something was going to replace pills.”

Officials say the heroin is trafficked from Mexico into the U.S., where it first goes to Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Northern Kentucky counties have been the epicenter of heroin abuse in the state, but law enforcement officials in Louisville, Lexington and Appalachian counties are reporting “a dramatic rise in the number of arrests and seizures related” to heroin. Kentucky State Police seized 11 doses of heroin and other opiates in 2008 in the eastern half of the state; they have seized 395 doses there so far this year.

Users are attracted to heroin’s low cost compared to pain pills, Barrouquere reports. A single oxycodone pill can cost from $80 to $100, but heroin can cost as little as $15 to $20 for an amount that will produce the same level of intoxication as one pain pill for 24 hours, Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Director Van Ingram said. (Read more)

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