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Extra-potent Heroin Hits Twin Cities

CBS News out of Minneapolis reported recently on a disturbing trend: increased heroin overdoses in the Twin Cities. In fact, they say that deaths from overdose are set to hit a new record, if the trend continues. What’s blamed for the upswing? A purer form of heroin that addicts are not prepared for.

So far this year, 15 people have died from heroin overdose in Hennepin, Scott and Dakota counties.

At the root of the problem is that heroin available here is both cheap and of high potency. This may be a result of increasing competition between dealers who find Minnesota a relatively new market. Like other products, there’s an economy in play here. Without control of distribution (as may happen in a “mature” market), addicts can shop around to get the best price and quality. Unfortunately, that quality can be deadly.

Heroin addicts are faced with a dilemma when using a different supplier or batch of the drug. There is no easy way to tell how strong any particular powder is – they just look like white powders. Experimenting with a lower dose is an option, but someone craving a fix is not likely to take the time or effort to slowly increase the dose. More common is to use the amount they are used to or ask another addict. In either case, they risk an overdose, coma and death. Death from heroin overdose can come quickly. If enough is injected, a user will slip into a coma and simply stop breathing. Without immediate medical treatment, they will die.

On the positive side, any who overdose and make it to an emergency room have a high probability of suffering no long term effects. ER’s are equipped to deliver an antidote to heroin (and other strong opiates) that works almost immediately, blocking the effects of the drug.

Also mentioned in the CBS report was that the user base may be expanding because of different options on how to take heroin. It doesn’t have to be injected, but can also be smoked or even taken orally. For those transitioning from a prescription narcotic addiction to a harder drug, these options offer a way to get high without crossing the “injection barrier.” For many, the idea of needles presents a hurdle to overcome – the idea may disgust them, since injection is associated with “real” addicts. Of course, by the time the move to IV abuse, they’ve already become dependent on the drug and no longer care.

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