Taking on Heroin
Prescott, AZ – A community symposium at the Heights Church in Prescott on Tuesday, Jan. 13, broke down a message that has been increasingly voiced by authorities for the last few years: heroin use and abuse is on a noticeable rise throughout Arizona, with Yavapai County as no exception.
The Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition, MATForce, hosted the public forum and brought in four panelists to speak and answer questions.
“We can’t always be out there looking, but we could find heroin everyday in Yavapai County if we wanted to,” said Dan Raiss, Commander of Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT) and one of the four panelists.
The multi-agency drug enforcement task force headed by Raiss began tracking heroin quantity, cost and overdosing in 2012 within Yavapai County when they began recognizing there is a real problem.
“Although we don’t have statistics on it, 2011 was a particularly bad year,” Raiss said.
Forty people are recorded to have died from heroin overdoses in Yavapai County since 2009, according to discharge data from the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Public Health.
The most affected population is shown to be young adults between the ages of 21 and 23.
Hosts of the forum screened a television broadcasting aired that night called Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona.
The price of heroin has doubled within Yavapai County recently, going from “… about $100 per gram to about $200 per gram,” Raiss said.
This jump in cost may be due to supply and demand, according to Raiss. The supply could be down due to enforcement seizures–causing people to pay more to get what’s left–or demand could be high enough that the regular supply to the area is limited, driving the price up.
“We can’t say what the reason is for sure,” Raiss said.
Heroin abides by the tolerance rule, according to Raiss. The more one uses, the more required to get the same high the next time.
Despite this local cost increase, heroin is commonly cheap and easy to acquire, according to Dr. Robert Ashby, a director of medicine at a detox center in Prescott and one of the other panelists.
“It’s easier for kids to get heroin than it is for them to get a six-pack of beer, and sometimes cheaper,” Ashby said.
One dosage (called a point) ranges from about $10 to $15. There are ten points in one gram of heroin.
A typical heroin user will go through about a quarter of a gram to a whole gram in one day depending on their tolerance and level of addiction.
The tri-city area is a well-known rehabilitation mecca for those seeking treatment, a fact that unsettles many community members and raises questions.
“I’m going to say something that will shake up this symposium,” said Rob Pinchawsky, a former law enforcement volunteer speaking from the audience. “It’s controversial, but there seems to be a schizophrenic duality to this problem. On one hand there are a lot of people trying to fight this epidemic and treat the addicted, but then I believe there is a vested interest within the medical field and by those running detox centers to preserving the addiction industry so every one can continue to make money from it.”
A doctor in psychology and one of the panelists, Janet Rosenberg, quickly responded to the accusation.
“I am not in this profession to make money,” Rosenberg said. “I’m in it because I care about people.”
Prescott Valley Police Chief Bryan Jarrell followed up on this comment, saying he understands Pinchawsky’s concern, but it is a potential problem throughout the medical industry and country pertaining to a wide array of issues.
“There are always going to be predators looking to make profit over someone else’s misery,” Jarrell said. “Of course, I wish they would just go away, but it’s unfortunately not that simple.”
Daniel Diederich, the fourth panelist, is a recovering heroin addict who’s been sober for about one year. He’s been in and out of prison most of his life, but now works for the treatment center in Prescott that got him clean in the first place.
He believes treatment is the only way for addicts to clean up and that prison is not the answer.
“Prison just makes it worse,” Diederich said. “Meth is what got me into prison, but heroin was my drug of choice in prison.”
It takes three convictions before someone can be incarcerated for drug possession and use. Any other charges in tandem with the drug use, however–such as theft and assault– can override this three strike rule.
Everyone on the panel and in the audience seemed to agree: we need to be educating children about the dangers of addiction as early as grade school.
Some of that education can come from teachers, but what really makes the difference is parental guidance.
“Parents commonly talk to their children about drugs after the kids have already begun to experiment with drugs, which is not the way to go,” Rosenberg said.
The average age for first trying marijuana is 11, according to Ashby. The younger the child is when exposed to any drug, the more addicting it is and the more damaging it is to the developing brain.
This epidemic is a serious matter concerning our future leaders, Raiss said.
“As we get older, who is going to take care of us and become our society’s doctors, lawyers and firemen?” Raiss said. “We need to do something about this now before it is too late.”