BIRMINGHAM (WWJ/AP) – Cheryl Stamp, a resident of Oakland County’s swanky Birmingham, says her son was addicted to heroin for five years and she still attends a suburban group for parents of addicts.
“He lost friends and we have members … their children have died,” Stamp told WWJ’s Sandra McNeil. “And it was easy; it was just very easy to go to downtown Birmingham, for $10 you buy a little packet and it’s all there.”
“Afterword, when he’d tell us how he’d get it … It’s just so easy — that’s the scary part,” she said. “Do you have to go down to Detroit? No you don’t. It’s right here; it’s very easy; you don’t have to go far.”
Stamp’s son has recovered, but she said it’s still a struggle.
That local mom’s comments come as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is urging first responders to carry an overdose antidote on the job as the number of heroin deaths across the country continues to rise.
With a 4 percent increase in deaths between 2006 and 2010, Holder is calling heroin addiction an “urgent and growing public health crisis.”
Holder said 17 states and the District of Columbia have amended their laws to increase access to naloxone, a blocking agent that can reverse the effects of an overdose and help restore breathing.
He said emergency use of naloxone had resulted in more than 10,000 overdose reversals since 2001.
Still, fatal heroin overdoses have increased 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, with 3,038 such deaths reported that year, and the numbers are believed to still be on the rise, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Another suburban mother, who asked to be identified only as Jeannie, said her daughter became hooked on heron while in school at Walled Lake Central High and nearly died several times.
She said many metro Detroit parents don’t want to face the growing problem.
“(They think) it can’t happen in my family,” Jeannie said. “Because I was definitely there too, and that’s just denial. ‘Oh, it’s not in West Bloomfied …’ Of course it is! Some of the biggest dealers are out here.”
The rising level of heroin use in recent years stems from a corresponding epidemic in the abuse of prescription opiate-based painkillers, such as oxycodone, DEA officials say. Deaths from overdoses of such drugs numbered more than 16,600 in 2010.
Many individuals who start out abusing oxycodone turn eventually to heroin as they build up a tolerance to the pain pills and find that they can buy heroin far more cheaply than prescription medications on the black market, experts say.
Meanwhile, trafficking in heroin, the bulk of it smuggled into the United States from Mexico, has climbed in conjunction with increasing demand.
“When confronting the problem of substance abuse, it makes sense to focus attention on the most dangerous types of drugs. And right now, few substances are more lethal than prescription opiates and heroin,” Holder said in a video message posted on Monday on the Justice Department’s website.
Holder said the DEA was leading a federal enforcement crackdown, and cited a 320 percent increase in the amount of heroin seized by U.S. authorities along the U.S.-Mexico border between 2008 and 2013.
The federal government also is enlisting the help of physicians, teachers, police and community leaders to boost support for substance abuse education, prevention and treatment, Holder said.
He said the DEA was focusing such efforts in regions experiencing a particularly high incidence of heroin abuse, such as in northern Ohio, where numbers of heroin-related deaths had recently jumped four-fold.
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