Black Tar Heroin “Falling out of the Sky” in Ohio

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New data released by the state of Ohio indicates that heroin use is so prevalent that the drug seems to be “falling out of the sky.” The drug, which many drug abusers are turning to as a cheap substitute for prescription painkillers like OxyContin, is being used by children as young as 13. Since prescription drug abuse is a nationwide problem, the heroin situation in Ohio could be just the tip of the iceberg. 

ohio map heroinA 2011 National Drug Intelligence Center report states that many prescription drug abusers are switching to heroin after building a tolerance for prescription painkillers. Heroin is seen as offering a more euphoric high by many long-time prescription drug abusers. According to the Ohio report, the cheaper price and greater availability of heroin makes it an attractive alternative to prescription drugs. An additional factor is the recent reformulation of OxyContin, one of the most addictive prescription painkillers. OxyContin pills can no longer be crushed for snorting or injection.

The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services reports a steep increase in heroin availability across the state. Black tar heroin, a new and potent form of the drug, is flooding major cities in Ohio like Cleveland and Columbus and making its way to smaller towns throughout the state.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Mexican drug traffickers are bringing more heroin into the country, fueling the rising tide of heroin abuse. Black tar heroin originates on the Pacific Coast of central Mexico. It’s usually smuggled by plane to Phoenix or Los Angeles and then transported by car to Columbus, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina. These two cities have become distribution hubs for the rest of the country.  Everywhere the drug passes through, there is a huge increase in overdose deaths due to its increased availability.

In a PBS interview in August 2011, Drug Enforcement Agent Anthony Marotta state that heroin is seeing a revival due to the high cost of black market OxyContin (up to $80 per pill) compared to $15 to $20 for an equivalent dose of heroin. The DEA calculates that addicts can maintain their drug habit with heroin for one-third to one-half the cost of prescription drugs.

People most tempted to switch from prescription painkiller abuse to heroin are those who lack the financial means to buy prescription drugs on the black market or doctor shop for prescriptions. The growing demand for heroin is being met by an expanding supply and a sophisticated distribution network. Black tar dealers use a “Pizza Hut” delivery model, with customers phoning in orders for the drug and dealers delivering it to an agreed-upon drop off location. Following a drug sale, dealers follow up with customers to make sure the drug was satisfactory and to help ensure future sales. This type of personalized selling has helped heroin dealers gain loyal clientele in Ohio and elsewhere.  It is extremely difficult to overcome heroin addiction without treatment.