Heroin deaths more than double in Boulder County

10:03 AM, Jan 28, 2014   |    comments
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BOULDER - Heroin deaths in Boulder County have more than doubled in the past year.

The Boulder County Coroner's office tells 9NEWS that in 2011 and 2012, there were six deaths in each of those years. In 2013, there were a total of 15 heroin deaths in Boulder County.

Boulder County Public Health said more people have been coming to them for help from the drug.

Three years ago, less than 2 percent of the admissions to their detoxification facility were for heroin or opiates, they said. But that number increased to 6.5 percent by the end of 2013.

Health officials said most people dependent on heroin are not likely to make it through the detox, because it is a tough detox.
Medication assisted treatment options are recommended for people that are struggling.

Why has heroin become such a problem recently?

"In previous years, when prescribing guidelines for narcotics became broader, many people became addicted," said Chana Goussetis. "Once the prescribing guidelines were again tightened, many people who were addicted to prescription narcotics transitioned to heroin. Heroin is cheaper than black market prescription opiates. Pain killers are roughly a dollar a milligram on the street, depending on supply and demand. Heroin is roughly $90 to $100 a gram, again depending on availability."

Boulder County Public Health says heroin is a much more potent drug for less money. Many people will smoke it before starting to use needles and dependence and tolerance develop quickly. Most people that use heroin start with painkillers they get from off the street, from friends, family's medicine cabinets and parties.

Goussetis said addiction to heroin is a disease much like diabetes and high blood pressure. It responds well to the right treatment. The person addicted needs a correct level of care. They need to go through a thorough drug and alcohol assessment from a trained addiction professional to begin the healing process.

Although heroin deaths are on the rise, Boulder County said for them, alcohol continues to be the biggest public health issue in regards to addiction.

Goussetis anticipates that with the legalization of recreational marijuana, more people will need access to treatment. She said synthetics like spice and bath salts are always troubling, since the companies are always changing what chemicals they put in them, and they're easily accessible for teens.

If you need help, Boulder County Public health has programs to help with drug addiction. If you don't live in Boulder County, they suggest you seek help at Linkingcare.com.

9NEWS also checked in with the Denver County Coroner about heroin deaths over the past few years. The coroner's office doesn't specifically track heroin deaths. Here is the statement they gave us:

"Heroin increased from 4.0 to 27.9 percent of Denver drug-related decedents from 2004 to 2012. The reason for this discrepancy had to do with detection of 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) in the blood and/or urine toxicology of the deceased as part of the autopsy. Heroin is metabolized into 6-MAM then into morphine. Also, heroin typically contains codeine because codeine naturally occurs in the opium poppy plant (from which heroin is produced). The 6-MAM needs to be present to confirm that heroin was related to the cause of death. However, this metabolite has a very short half-life and may be undetectable by the time blood work is done as part of an autopsy; whereas morphine and codeine will very likely be present in the blood toxicology. Starting in 2008, the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) began efforts to more definitively diagnose heroin mortality due to changes in the lab testing they use (i.e., looking for 6-MAM in urine). As a result, more heroin deaths were identified in 2008 (N=27), 2009 (N=49), 2010 (N=35), 2011 (N=49) and 2012 (N=41) than in any year from 2003 through 2007. Consequently, the number of morphine and codeine deaths has declined, especially in 2010 through 2012. The combination of heroin and cocaine (typically called a speedball) was found among 2.6 to 11.1 percent of Denver drug related decedents from 2005 to 2012."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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