After a relative lull in heroin abuse during the first part of the new millennium, this notorious street drug is making an explosive resurgence. Police all across America are reporting a sharp uptick in heroin arrests. In Florida–and in Broward County in particular­–one very specific reason is being cited for the unwanted revival: oxycodone.

Specifically, it’s the lack of oxycodone–and its sustained time-release cousin, OxyContin–that is causing a dramatic rise in heroin abuse, along with the devastating heroin overdoses that always follow in the shadows. OxyContin is now much more difficult to come by in South Florida after a concerted effort to restrict access to the drug, and heroin is filling the void.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), Broward County addiction treatment centers experienced an 87 percent increase in admissions for heroin use from 2011 to 2012. In addition, in the first quarter of 2013 there were 948 heroin-related charges across the state, up 23% from the first quarter of 2012, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Collateral Damage from the War on Drugs

Florida recently instituted an aggressive crackdown of health care facilities, which would regularly distribute narcotics to a far greater degree than that of reputable medical practices. These so called “pill mills” became so prevalent in Broward that former Sheriff Al Lamberti once quipped, “There are more pain clinics in Broward County than McDonalds.”

Legislation has been drafted in an effort to attack the problem. Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi signed a comprehensive anti-pill mill bill in 2011, and suddenly, oxycodone addicts discovered that their wells had run dry. Dozens of clinics in Florida have been shut down since this legislation was drafted, resulting in the arrests of over 100 people, including many doctors.

The results were predictable. When a person descends into the abyss of drug addiction, cutting off their supply does not solve the problem. Most addicts will go to any lengths to obtain their drug of choice, and if that isn’t available, the next best thing will do just fine. That next best thing has turned out to be heroin.

“In the past year alone, we’ve seen opioid users whose primary drug of choice is heroin, whereas in years past the primary drug of choice for opioid users was prescription pain killers,” says Ryan Johnston, Admissions Director at Cornerstone Recovery Center in Ft. Lauderdale. “The switch from prescription opiates to heroin is directly related to the crackdown on pill mills.”

The reasons are fairly straightforward. When demand of any product goes up while supply goes down, prices are sure to skyrocket. One 30mg OxyContin pill might cost as much as $80-$100 after the anti-pill mill bill was signed, while a day’s worth of heroin, obtained with ease, goes for around $20.

“Once all the pill mills started shutting down, people like me just switched to something easier and cheaper to get, and that’s heroin,” Sean, 32, a heroin abuse client at a Florida drug rehabilitation center told the Sun-Sentinel. “It’s a supply and demand thing.  I could score heroin in five minutes, while it would take me all day to find oxycodone.”

The X-Factors of Heroin Addiction

The increase in heroin abuse is alarming, for obvious reasons. The horrors of sharing needles, the inability to function in society, the threat of going broke to support one’s addiction – those are common problems which can have irreversible, negative effects on the user.

The main problem, however, is a heroin overdose is much more likely than an oxycodone overdose because of unknown purity levels in street drugs. People could obtain a much more potent batch of heroin from what they are normally accustomed, and have no way of knowing it.

Once they discover that the purity of their batch is much higher than they realized, it is often too late; another heroin overdose has occurred. There’s nothing the user can do at that point to stop the drug from running its deadly course. In late 2012, the Florida state government passed the 911 Good Samaritan Act to encourage people witnessing a drug overdose to call for emergency help without the repercussions of being charged with drug possession, as long as the caller is acting in good faith.

Heroin side effects can be almost as devastating. They include:

  • Uncontrollable, long-term nausea
  • Substantial drop in blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Flushing of skin
  • Suppression of breathing

Seeking Help is Critical

Many heroin addicts may, at some point during the throes of their addiction, decide to try and quit. Going “cold turkey” on one’s own is not advisable. For those who have made the switch from oxycodone addiction to heroin addiction, the body has become so accustomed to having the drug that it may react in dangerous ways if the supply is suddenly cut off.

It is essential to leave heroin withdrawal to drug addiction professionals. The effects that heroin has on the human body are, in many ways, unlike that of other drugs. Heroin can change body chemistry to the point where sudden withdrawal can be fatal.

As such, those who have abused the drug should contact a drug rehabilitation center rather than go it alone. This is not a “Do it yourself” job; there are very specific ways that heroin withdrawal must be handled in order to ensure the health and well being of the recovering addict.

Do you know someone who is suffering from heroin or oxycodone addiction? Cornerstone Recovery Center has experienced addiction recovery specialists that can help. Call 888-711-0354 or click here to seek help today.