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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meet the Wealthy Heroin Addict

"The people most at risk for heroin addiction include whites, males, 18- to 25-year-olds, people making less than $20,000 a year, Medicaid recipients and the uninsured, the CDC report found.

"But the biggest increases in heroin use in recent years were found in groups that typically aren't expected to go near the drug, including women, people with private insurance and higher-income individuals, the July 7, 2015 issue of the Centers For Disease Control's "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" said.

"The gaps in heroin use between men and women, people on Medicaid or with private insurance, and those with low or high incomes have all narrowed during the past decade, the CDC said.

"CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the narrowing gaps in heroin abuse are occurring due to across-the-board increases, causing a "leveling" of heroin use. "We're seeing an increase throughout many segments of society," he added."

(Dennis Thompson. "Heroin use rising among women and wealthy."
CBS HealthDay. July 07, 2015)

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined heroin would become a prominent drug of choice for wealthy Americans. Even though I know the public perception of a heroin addict as a dirty, low-life junkie is far from the truth, I have wrongly assumed the wealthy have sufficient resources -- money, education, healthy peers -- to insulate themselves from contact with this illegal opiate.

I know drug use doesn't discriminate and crosses all social boundaries, yet the numbers of rich Americans using heroin is, to me, astounding. The latest research from the Centers For Disease Control confirms my ignorance about the rich: The upper class does abuse heroin.

Do you, like me, wonder how this surge of heroin use has happened?

Consider these findings from a report of two major federal studies in 1987:

* "With the exception of heroin and crack among the poor, the use of illegal drugs in the nation appears to have peaked, including the snorting of powdered cocaine."
* "Federally financed studies show that the people turning away from drugs are the most educated and affluent. The poorest and least-educated have continued or increased their drug use."

* "Perhaps the most dire vision of the future concerns the intravenous users of heroin, a drug that has remained predominantly the preserve of the inner-city poor."

(Peter Kerr. "Rich vs. Poor: Drug Patterns Are Diverging."
The New York Times. August 30, 1987)

The 1987 article shows how much substance abuse has changed in a couple of decades. Since powerful prescription painkillers like OxyContin have become pricier and harder to use, addicts across America are turning to heroin. No longer just an inner-city plague, the heroin health epidemic has crossed all economic borders, and now the wealthy are becoming addicted in ever-greater numbers.

Michael's House Treatment Centers ("Rich People and Heroin: The Path to a Deadly Addiction") reports ...

"In some parts of the country, heroin has become the chic drug of choice among users with six-figure incomes and pricey houses. In some cases, drug dealers are making personal deliveries to swank hot spots, homes, or downtown offices, and they even run specials designed to attract their young, urban professional clientele, according to USA Today."

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows 620,000 people admitted to using heroin in 2011, over twice the number in 2003. Heroin use has increased 63 percent over the past decade.

In addition to those who were once addicted to prescription opioids, the idle rich may be attracted to heroin because the danger associated with the substance actually makes it appealing. Some experts claim the sensation of danger offers a new "kick" that sometimes helps bring the affluent out of sense of boredom.

And, numerous wealthy heroin users become involved with the drug on the club and party scene where they may be introduced to the drug today in the same way they were to cocaine in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Those not familiar with heroin might find this bizarre since the drug is delivered via a needle. But, this is not always the case. Heroin can be snorted or smoked, two delivery methods that make introduction to the drug on the party scene a lot easier. Unfortunately, first experiences with heroin in any form sets the stage for a major addiction.

Perhaps, I should have paid more attention to news from San Francisco, called an epicenter of a heroin epidemic as far back as the late 1990s. Read this from the SF Gate:

"Oscar Scaggs may not have known it, but he rode a cresting, ugly new wave right to his death when he overdosed in a down-and-outer hotel on New Year's Eve.

"The wave is heroin addiction -- a familiar horror come back

"This time the drug is reaching its anesthetizing fingers deeper than ever into the ranks of the young, middle- and upper-middle class -- kids like the 21-year-old son of blues rocker Boz Scaggs, ones from wealthy city districts and suburbs who have the world at their fingertips and snort, smoke or inject it away.

"This isn't the 'heroin chic' that gripped hollow-eyed celebrities in the mid- 1990s, killing the likes of actor River Phoenix and grunge rocker Stefanie Sargent with overdoses. That wave was on its way out even as President Clinton denounced it in May 1997, replaced by an upsurge in the abuse of methamphetamine, or speed.

"In the depressingly predictable way of the drug world, this wave is the inevitable answer to the speed epidemic, experts say -- inevitable because epidemics of stimulant "upper" drugs are always followed by epidemics of depressant "downer" drugs.

"The main difference with this latest heroin wave is that the smack on the street these days has become so incredibly potent that users don't have to inject it, as they do low- grade heroin. This has put a richer cut of kid into the drug's mangy grasp.

"Being able to smoke it or inhale it straight out of a bag means youths can use heroin and still pass through their privileged worlds without tell- tale needle "tracks" on their arms to give them away. At least for a while, that is -- most, if they become hard- core junkies, eventually turn to syringes.

"Adding to the allure is the fact that heroin has become so cheap -- $5 a hit, down from $100 in the early 1990s -- that it now costs about as much to get high on smack for six hours as it does to buy a six-pack of beer. Heroin that would have been about 5 percent pure a few years ago is now 60 to 80 percent pure.

"Most kids-of-privilege users are in their early 20s, medical and law enforcement officials say, but a very small and growing percentage, less than 2 percent nationwide, are between the ages of 12 and 18."

(Kevin Fagan, Neva Chonin. "Young, Rich and Strung Out: Heroin Emerging as Drug of Choice of Bay Area's Well-off Kids." SF Gate. January 08, 1999)

Even in the '90s, the article confirmed that "it's the upper-class kids just out of high school who are doing it" (using heroin). By 1999, San Francisco had the highest rate of heroin-related deaths of any city in California: "One every three days, double the rate of the early '90s, and far more than from any other drug."

The SF Gate reported "the trend is standing out like neon among those who must deal with it." And, in fact, Dr. David Smith, founder and medical director of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics and a person who counseled Scaggs said this about heroin in 1999: "The drug culture is like the tobacco industry. They market to youth, and to where they can get the money. They don't care who they destroy."

Dave Kaplan, who runs the Easy Action music booking agency in San Francisco's Mission District, said of the epidemic: "All I know is that whenever I walk down 16th Street it looks like a scene out of Night of the Living Dead."

This was where Boz Scaggs came at times came to get his dope. Parts of the Mission and Haight- Ashbury districts have served as the city's principal dope supermarkets for decades. He confirmed the demographics of the San Francisco scene: "It seems like every other buyer, or more, who comes here is some rich white kid." But by 1999, they came not only for pot or for acid but also for heroin.

Asked why heroin would boom among the comfy set, Boz Scaggs shrugged. "I guess because chiva's cheaper than just about anything else right now," he said. "It doesn't make no difference if you're a millionaire -- everyone wants to spend $1 to get $10 worth of something. And if there's anyone who knows a bargain, it's rich people."

And, we should all consider a message to hardcore marijuana legalization advocates:

"Another part of the appeal is purely generational. In a world of aging baby boomers, upscale potheads and ex-hippie acid casualties, heroin is emblematic of a younger generation, as intricately linked to its music and fashion scene as an iron-on marijuana leaf patch was to that of its parents. It may be the most dangerous drug, but at least it's theirs -- which isn't really accurate, but that's the thinking."

(Kevin Fagan, Neva Chonin. "Young, Rich and Strung Out: Heroin Emerging as Drug of Choice of Bay Area's Well-off Kids." SF Gate. January 08, 1999)

Rich folks on heroin? I kind of "get it." Please pardon my shock. I really should have known that addiction today is so widespread that favor can't keep the wolf away from the door. It is just that people like me assume those with wealth seek pleasure without considerable risk. That is not so. Honestly, the same patterns play out in wealthy communities as in poor ones.

We must deal with this cultural problem now. People typically turn to mood-altering substances many times over the course of the day to get by. We take Ambien to let us sleep; we take caffeine to wake us up in the morning; we take Fentanyl to ease our pains; we smoke marijuana to get us high; and we take heroin to lead us on a straight road to dependency and eventual addiction.

Rich, middle-class, or poor -- the answer to the heroin epidemic is complete abstinence from the substance. Now, if we can only find out how to employ the natural highs that prevent our nation from becoming zombies to abuse, not only in San Francisco, but in every small corner of the country.

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