After one recovering patient spoke out about her harrowing heroin addiction to Patch, local experts weighed in on a problem that's spreading in Riverhead and across Long Island.
"Over the past six years heroin use on Long Island has exploded and dealers do not distinguish between adults and teens," Susan Toman, executive director of The Guidance Center in Southold, said. "Teens whose parents have sent them off to college and many teens who are still in high school are now struggling with addiction. Too many times the consequences are fatal, often a promising youth ends up arrested with a drug charge. Heroin has become easy to obtain on the East End and throughout Suffolk County."
The price of heroin has dropped, Toman said, making it easier for kids to purchase the drug. In 2006, she said, heroin would cost an addict $150 for a "bundle"; today that amount can be obtained for as little as $80.
The term "bundle" applies specifically to ten bags of .10 grams of heroin, so a bundle is one gram of heroin divided into ten bags, she said.
A bag of heroin, Toman said, can be bought for $7.
"The price and the high are too enticing for many a teen," she said.
Toman said overdoses have become so common now on the East End that local police and EMTs are trained and have their vehicles stocked with Narcan kits; a drug called naloxone, or Narcan, blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.
Back in 2006, The Guidance Center Services collected data in the Bach Harrison Needs Prevention Survey -- surveying sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfh graders in the three Southold Town high schools.
Then, she said, "The presence of heroin was extremely low with youth indicating no use." But today, she added, "Data from our local emergency rooms, our EMTs and police validate that on the East End heroin use has skyrocketed."
John Corbett, clinical care coordinator at the Maryhaven Steps to Life Program in Riverhead cited statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: "About 11.6 percent of teenagers think it is easy to get heroin, and it is available to them," he said.
The average age for first-time users of heroin is getting younger, Corbett said. In 2010, the average age for first use among teens and adults ages 12 to 49 was 21.3 years -- "significantly lower" then the 2009 estimate of 25.5, he said.
"Today these numbers are rising due to the different opiates out there now," Corbett said.
The Maryhaven Steps to Life Program is an outpatient facility located in Riverhead that deals with both the adolescent and adult population addicted to heroin and other illicit drugs, he added.
Corbett says the Steps to Life Program utilizes group as well as individual counseling, drug screens, and family sessions to help stabilize clients to assist them in their recoveries. Sometimes clients are sent to detox centers and rehabs to help break the cycle of addiction, allowing the client to be stabile enough to participate in this type of setting.
"We are making a difference and putting a dent in this growing problem, as evidenced by a high rate of recent successful completions by clients who have undergone and finished treatment," he said.