Its not on a wide scale yet, said Hall who tracks drug trends and statistics for community organizations in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. For these opioid addicts, its about a euphoria but more importantly, the heroin keeps them from going into withdrawal, or as they would say, from getting sick. Any port will do in the storm of withdrawal.
Foley, of Coral Springs, began his drug odyssey with marijuana. He was 14, and before his next birthday, he had graduated to taking Xanax and Ecstasy. By the time he was 17, a junior in high school, he was approached by a dealer offering blues oxycodone at two for $20. Much of his habit was paid for with the money he earned at a part-time job.
When I finally took a half of a 30 milligram pill, I threw up a couple minutes later. Then I started to feel warm all over, it was the best feeling I had ever had, he said. I needed to get that feeling again. It escalated from popping pills to smoking to snorting to injecting.
Two years ago, Foley and a buddy met with a pill dealer who was touting a cheaper high: heroin. It cost less, I didnt have the hassle of trying to find the pills and the high lasted longer. I started doing it every day.
He was arrested in December, charged with possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia and the case was referred to drug court.
Almost weekly, Broward assistant public defender Rudy Morel watches as his clients stand before Broward Circuit Judge Michele Towbin Singer, some with evidence still visible from their last heroin high track marks, and, occasionally, blood oozing from puncture wounds.
It used to be you rarely see heroin and now its on the docket every day or every other day, says Morel who also holds a medical degree.
Although he says the caseload has remained about level in the past year, he has seen a shift to heroin use in that time, with many of those on heroin who were first on prescription pills.
Singer, who presides over the county drug court, says the defendants coming before her frequently offer similar stories about their paths to heroin. They started with an injury, began taking prescription pills, then abused prescription pills sniffing, snorting, then eventually injecting.
Once they are at the point of injecting, it doesnt take much to cross over to heroin, she said.
One of the concerns, she added, is that like prescription pills, heroin is a particularly difficult drug to kick and generally requires long-term residential treatment. There are only a few options in South Florida.
The actual drugs on the streets are also changing. The traditional poor-grade black tar or brown powder heroin from Mexico is now joined by a potent white heroin also out of that region, Hall said. Other white heroin available in South Florida comes from South America, he added. And while some users still snort or smoke it, others are turning to injecting the drug.
At the height of the prescription pill abuse epidemic about three years ago, seven people a day were dying of prescription drug overdoses in Florida. Addicts were lining up outside of pain clinics waiting to get prescriptions, some homegrown and others drug tourists who had traveled to Florida from as far as Kentucky and West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio looking for what they called hillbilly heroin. At one point, Broward was ground zero, home to more than 150 storefront pain clinics where doctors liberally doled out prescriptions of highly addictive medicines with little or no medical cause. Almost overnight, Florida earned the dubious distinction as the painkiller capital of America.