From Hoffman to high schools, heroin use is on the rise

Jun 1, 2014

Two years ago, the use and abuse of drugs called bath salts seemed to be in the news every day. This year, it’s heroin. The number of heroin deaths is on the rise in a staggering way. But why has this drug that’s been around for more than 100 years experiencing a resurgence now?

Click 'Read More ' to hear our interview with J. David Goodman.

This week on “Take Care,” New York Times reporter J. David Goodman discusses the why heroin has become what some people call an epidemic. Goodman has investigated and written extensively about many different aspects of heroin in our society.

Heroin use is growing at a staggering rate all over the country. And New York state has not been immune to the addiction and deaths it’s caused -- from Staten Island high school students and SUNY Oswego college students to the high profile case of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

So why are so many people turning to heroin? Goodman says that the prevalent use of painkillers like oxycodone is largely to blame. Many people first get hooked on those painkillers, abuse them and then migrate to heroin.

“This is a drug that makes you physically dependent. It’s something that you build up a tolerance for it,” said Goodman. “You need a very small amount of heroin to get a high.”

As laws like the I-STOP law in New York state have made it increasingly hard for people to get prescription painkillers, people who are addicted turn to heroin.

“[I]t’s a sort of euphoria. It’s a feeling that everything is good, and it works for pain,” said Goodman.

Often it’s not the person who was prescribed oxycodone themselves that starts abusing the drug, but a family member.

“The kids learned that this is something that could get you high. They played around with them on the weekends. And it seemed low risk. [It] carried almost less of a stigma than smoking marijuana – there’s no smell, you could do it at school, which disturbingly a lot of kids I talked to did do, you could buy and trade it at school,” said Goodman. “They didn’t realize the extent to which they were going to get hooked.”

And Goodman says that’s what’s caused heroin to go mainstream and effect all socio-economic classes this time, rather than when it was last a major concern 30 or 40 years ago.