Heroin use is on the rise statewide, while many other drugs appear to be waning, according to an analysis of drug submissions to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab.
The analysis shows heroin submissions have increased by more than 300 percent since 2011. The current fiscal year has seen a 20 percent increase, while all other drugs during that period have decreased by 22 percent.
It’s a problem local police are also dealing with.
Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Vinson took a four-year break from the narcotics division to work in criminal investigations. When he recently returned to narcotics, he said he was surprised at the drug’s sudden popularity.
“It was a shock to me when I came back,” he said. “It was so rare (before).”
Vinson estimates the county has seen a 70 to 80 percent increase in the past five years, much of it coming into the area from Atlanta.
Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Sharif Chochol said he began seeing the increase last year.
In 2011, 4.2 million Americans, or 1.6 percent, ages 12 and older had used the drug at least once, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Vinson said it appears that many users claim they started off taking prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin. When the drug started to have less effect, they began melting and shooting up the painkillers before eventually moving on to heroin.
When abused, prescription opiates such
as Oxycontin and Vicodin have an effect similar to heroin, which is derived from morphine.
Heroin, which can be injected, inhaled or smoked, is considered highly addictive and is said to cause a surge of euphoria accompanied by dry mouth, flushing of the skin, heaviness of the extremities and
clouded mental function. Users then go into an alternately wakeful and drowsy state, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Long-term abuse results in collapsed veins, pulmonary complications, liver disease and clogging of the blood vessels.
While the drug’s use is rising locally, it still doesn’t compare to the number of methamphetamine users police see.
“We have seen more heroin than in years past but it’s not the most prevalent drug we have,” Chochol said.
Heroin, however, is slightly cheaper than meth. Chochol estimates that heroin sells for about $40 for an eighth of a gram while meth sells for $150-$200 per gram.