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Heroin use rises in D.C. among middle, upper class

Tuesday - 2/4/2014, 3:24pm  ET

WASHINGTON - Abuse of heroin is ramping up at such a fast rate, doctors say it's the definition of an epidemic. Health officials in D.C. are trying to respond in turn.

The District is staring at a runaway statistic: a 55 percent increase in heroin related overdoses since 2010, according to Dr. Joxel Garcia, the director of the city's Department of Health.

While it's hard to get good data on an illegal drug, he says the typical person they find using this highly addictive opiate is not what you might expect - they are educated, middle and upper income users, he says.

"These are mothers, students, lawyers, professionals, attorneys, doctors, actors. We cannot assume that this is going to be just a temporary thing," Garcia says during an interview Tuesday with Newschannel 8.

Lawmakers in Maryland are also seeing a sharp increase in overdoses. Heroin hooks users of pain killers at an average age of 23 and it's being lethally mixed with other drugs, Garcia says.

"You combine that, let's say with, Fentanyl, which is used for nausea especially in people who have cancer and its a very powerful drug," Garcia says.

The combination of those two drugs specifically is what authorities think killed 22 people in Western Pennsylvania last week.

D.C.'s Heath Department is partnering with the Department of Behavioral Health to develop stronger prevention programs and identify the specific communities at risk of getting hooked on heroin.

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