Kevin Foley stood before a judge in Broward Countys drug court fellow abusers sitting behind in him in the pews talking about the fitful life of a recovering addict, the random drug tests, the counseling and what he hoped was his next, clean chapter.
Foley, 21, has been hooked on heroin for nearly two years. Before that, he was popping oxycodone and other prescription pills snapped up as Florida become a bustling marketplace of illegal pill mills. He turned to heroin after his drug of choice became too expensive. I was chasing the next high, says Foley, who landed in drug court after a heroin possession arrest in December. I wanted to try it all.
Heroin is inching back in Florida, the unintended consequence of the states epic war on prescription pills. Now, with Florida officials successfully slowing the supplies, shutting down the pill mills that masqueraded as pain centers and arresting thousands of addicts and even doctors, heroin has become a popular substitute.
In January, a group of researchers from across the country met in New Mexico at the National Institute on Drug Abuses Community Epidemiology Work Group conference and swapped frighteningly similar stories about the increased use of heroin. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale region was named one of the regions facing the heroin trend.
The major drug headline of 2012 was the emergence of heroin both in urban centers and small cities and towns, said epidemiologist and drug expert Jim Hall of Nova Southeastern Universitys Center for Applied Research on Substance Abuse and Health Disparities, who attended the conference. Young adults, 18 to 30, white, prescription opioid addicts are making the transition to heroin.
While the raw numbers remain small across Florida and police have seen little street activity, experts are already mounting a campaign to slow the trend, from public education about the risks of heroin and needle injection to law enforcement presentations and spreading the word about a Good Samaritan law designed to stop drug overdoses.
This is a public health issue. In some ways, the scale of the prescription pill problem took us all by surprise, said Pat Castillo, vice president of the United Way of Broward County Commission on Substance Abuse. We had been promoting the prescription drug monitoring system for nine years; the [pill] problem happened in the blink of an eye. We are very concerned with this issue of heroin.
From July 2010 to June 2011, there were 45 heroin-related deaths statewide, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. That number jumped to 77 heroin-related deaths from July 2011 to June 2012.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also reports a slight increase in heroin-related charges: In the first three months of 2013, heroin-related charges totaled 948. In the same three-month period last year, that number was 772.
And in what may be the strongest marker, addiction treatment numbers are up in Florida. In 2012, Broward County just a few years ago considered the center of the pill mill problem addiction treatment centers saw an 87 percent spike in admissions among addicts using heroin as their drug of choice, jumping from 169 to 316, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. In Miami-Dade, the admissions jumped from 227 to 308 in the first half of 2012.