As prescription painkillers become harder to get and abuse, heroin replaces them in Eastern and Southern Kentucky

Heroin use, which has been a problem in Northern and then Central Kentucky after the state began cracking down on prescription painkillers last year, has been spreading to the Southern and Eastern parts of the state. Heroin is becoming more popular throughout Kentucky because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription painkillers, specifically opioid medications, reports Valarie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

While an 80-milligram OxyContin costs between $60 to $100 a pill on the
black market, heroin costs $45 to $60 for a multiple-dose supply, reports The Partnership at  With national and state efforts to curb prescription drug abuse, including the reformulation of OxyContin that makes the drug more difficult to crush and snort, heroin can also be easier to obtain and abuse.

As drug users turn from prescription drugs to heroin to get their high, Northern Kentucky and major cities like Lexington and Louisville are struggling to address the problem, says an Operation UNITE press release. Operation UNITE is a regional anti-drug coalition fighting substance abuse in Southern and Eastern Kentucky counties (map).

Most Southern and Eastern Kentucky counties are just beginning to see the signs of heroin use, says the release. Dan Smoot, CEO of Operation Unite, told Spears that heroin’s spread throughout Kentucky was inevitable. “We knew it was coming. We just didn’t know when it would hit,” he said.

Rowan County was hit before most Eastern Kentucky counties, said Smoot; the most recent example of increased heroin use occurred July 9, when Operation UNITE agents arrested a
known prescription drug trafficker attempting to bring a large
quantity of heroin into Beattyville, says the release.

Uncertainty about what heroin users are actually getting makes the drug
especially dangerous, says Paul Hays, law-enforcement director for Operation UNITE. “You don’t know the purity of the heroin,” he said in the release. “Dealers will often ‘cut’ the drug with other substances in order to
boost their profits. There’s no way the public knows what they’re
shooting up.”

This increased risk can be deadly, and although there’s no evidence of an increase in heroin overdose deaths in Eastern Kentucky, a task force has been created to address this fatal problem in Lexington. There have been 29
heroin overdose deaths in Fayette County so far this year, seven more than the amount of overdose deaths in all opf 2012, Fayette Coroner Gary Ginn told the newspaper.

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