Once a common drug in the 70s, Americans might have thought that the days of widespread heroin use was all in the past. But there’s a new epidemic that’s sweeping throughout suburban neighborhoods. It’s stronger, cheaper, and more dangerous than ever before.

Heroin never really went away, though. Not according to DEA Special Agent Anthony Pettigrew, who spoke with Michael Mayko of the Connecticut Post about the new epidemic.

It has always been around, according to Pettigrew. But now the country is experiencing a perfect storm of cheap drugs, ineffective STD prevention, and inconsistent reporting on heroin-related deaths, leaving health and law enforcement officials scrambling for a solution.

Heroin Use is On the Rise in Suburban Neighborhoods

It’s an unlikely place to find a heroin addict, but more and more quiet suburban towns are facing just that. Kristina Lindborg, correspondent for the CS Monitor calls it a classic gateway situation. Young people, some in their early teens, have a drink, then try a joint, and eventually take a pill such as Oxycontin. But some prescription drugs cost $80 apiece on the street. The next step, then, is a move to a cheaper drug that has a similar effect – heroin.

Heroin that’s making its way to America now, by all accounts from South America, is as high as 80 percent pure, which is a remarkable increase of the once-common 2 or 3 percent purity. With higher concentrations, its no wonder that there’s a reported spike in fatal heroin overdoses.

All through the Northeast, states are declaring a heroin epidemic. In Ohio, Middletown police chief Rodney Muterspaw told the Journal News that he recalls once, back in the 90s, making an arrest where heroin was involved. But now, it’s unusual for there to be any other drug besides heroin. In Hamilton, Judge Dan Gattermeyer says the problem affects whole communities because addicts “will do just about anything to fund their habit.”

Mayko paints a grim picture of heroin deaths in that state. He reports that in 2014 there were a staggering 273 fatal heroin overdoses throughout Connecticut. And that’s up from 257 in 2013. It’s hard to imagine how any community could withstand overdose deaths of that proportion, yet still there are precious few programs in place to help.

Heroin is cheap, which makes it deadly, says U.S. Sen Rob Portman. The whole country needs a new approach, not a one-size-fits-all solution that has never worked.

In New Jersey, Chief Medical Officer at Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead explains that the need for heroin to an addict is only marginally less overwhelming than the need to breathe. He says it’s “an amazingly powerful, primitive, strong force” that few who haven’t been there could understand.

HIV Cases Spike Across the Country

Time magazine says that Indiana Governor Mike Pence declared a public health emergency when nearly 80 new HIV cases were confirmed in March. But weak federal funding in and around Scott County, IN leaves the area with inadequate HIV prevention options. They have only one HIV testing clinic serving several counties.

Indiana ranked last in federal funding in 2013, even though there was an uptick in Hepatitis C, which could be an indicator of more and more HIV cases. And even though Pence has maintained his opposition to a needle exchange program, he agreed that implementing it for a 30-day period would be an emergency management measure. Pence believes that the HIV situation is probably going to worsen.

It’s not the drugs themselves, of course, that are linked to a spike in HIV cases. It’s the needle sharing. And although education and testing could help combat it, the funding just isn’t there.

Lagging Data and Inconsistent Reporting Hinders Efforts

What might be as bad as the heroin epidemic itself is the fact that no reporting agency, at the state or federal level, is on the same page. Heroin-related fatal overdoses keep climbing. But without accurate and timely reporting, programs and legislation at all levels suffer.

The Centers for Disease Control was especially slow releasing information on deaths due to heroin overdose last year, says the Lowell Sun, which creates roadblocks with getting funding for drug education and treatment programs. But new reports show that heroin deaths nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2013. What might be the most surprising finding of the CDC report is that the steepest increase in fatal heroin overdose was seen in the Midwest.

Along with lagging data is the problem with inconsistent testing by coroners. For example, in Pennsylvania, coroners don’t have a standard method for detecting or reporting fatal heroin overdoses. Some deaths are almost certainly reported as a non-specific drug-related because of inadequate testing capabilities. Ben Allen and Jeffrey Bensing who write for the Mainline Media News say that there is virtually no consistency whatsoever in reporting heroin overdose deaths.

Meanwhile, State Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary, Gary Tennis, says accurate data isn’t just important – it is a “life or death” situation. Accurate data helps states implement the right programs and legislation in the right places. Without consistent data, that can’t happen.

It’s difficult to fathom just how widespread the heroin epidemic in America has grown. From South American cartels, some of the most potent heroin we have ever seen is being introduced. It’s cheap, less than a pack of cigarettes and much less than prescription pills. And it’s easy to find, too.

What’s clear is that the security we once felt might have been imaginary. Education is inadequate when the addictive power of heroin isn’t understood and needle users don’t fully appreciate the risks of transmitting HIV. And where data is slow to reach the mainstream and heroin death statistics are overwhelmingly inconsistent, funding for programs that could help at the educational, enforcement, and treatment levels can’t get off the ground.

Treatment programs are more important now than ever. If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction, give Cornerstone Recovery Center a call at 888-711-0354 or contact us online. Help really is within reach, and all communication is confidential.