Low cost, savvy marketing and easy availability have made heroin the recent drug of choice for youths around the country, including Utah’s Wasatch Front. Police have been alarmed by the level of sophistication involved in the drug rings, and the young age of the clientele.
“We are seeing school-aged children involved in heroin use,” said Cottonwood Heights police officer Beau Babkaa to KSL Newsradio. Dealers are even putting the logos of popular films targeted to teens, like Twilight, on heroin bags and giving them away for free. This gets young people hooked and coming back for more.
Cost is playing a big part in heroin’s recent popularity. Heroin is often cheaper than marijuana or prescription opiates like OxyContin. A baggie of heroin can be purchased for as little as five dollars. In contrast, marijuana runs from $10 to $50 for an eighth of an ounce. One 80 mg OxyContin pill is valued from $80 to $110 on the streets.
Richard Nance, Utah County Health Department substance abuse director, explains that prescription opiates sometimes act as “gateway” drugs to heroin. Once a doctor refuses to continue writing a prescription for OxyContin, the patient turns to a drug dealer. When pills become unaffordable, dealers are happy to supply cheap heroin.
Even though heroin is relatively inexpensive it is usually of high quality. Police are generally finding its purity to be 60 percent or greater. In the 1970s heroin was only 3 percent pure. The high level of purity makes addiction even more likely.
Heroin on the Wasatch Front
Drug trafficking in the Wasatch Front has focused on convenience. Police explain that a buyer simply contacts a dispatcher who sends a runner out to meet the buyer at a nearby location — all within 20 minutes.
Hannah Muir, a recovering addict, explained, “It’s easier than finding someone to buy you alcohol. It’s easier than finding weed. It’s easier than buying a pack of cigarettes.”
The problem in Utah has not yet reached the scale of heroin rings in other parts of the country. Police are doing everything they can to control it. Sandy police explain that all jurisdiction boundaries are off, and they are working together like never before.
Since the rise in heroin use is occurring mostly among teens and young adults, parents should be aware of signs of drug use to watch for in their children.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use
-Withdrawal from friends and family
-No longer participating in favorite sports or activities
-Negative change in school or work performance
-Lack of personal hygiene
-Constant runny nose or sniffling
-Wearing long sleeves, even in summer, to cover needle marks
-Stealing, shoplifting or engaging in desperate attempts for money
-Restlessness, insomnia or vomiting, which can be signs of drug withdrawal
Addicts are often skilled at hiding drug abuse. The owner of a drug testing company explained that it often takes about two years for parents to realize their child is using drugs. Many parents simply don’t want to believe that their child is a drug addict.
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is estimated almost a quarter of those who use heroin become dependent. Since addicts require more and more heroin to achieve the same high, there is a significant risk of fatal overdose. Other long term consequences of heroin use include collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining, pulmonary complications, and liver or kidney disease.
A variety of treatment options exist for heroin addiction including medication and therapy. Many people who are successful in treatment can resume stable and productive lives.
What if You Are Charged With Drug Possession in Utah?
If you are charged with possession of a small amount of drugs and it is your first offense, it is likely you won’t have to spend time in jail. You do, however, face other serious consequences. These include losing your driver’s license, losing your professional license and having a criminal record that may potentially prevent you from getting a job.
It is always wise to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before pleading guilty to any drug possession charge. An attorney can advise you of your legal rights, discuss the options available and advocate on your behalf