WASHINGTON - They may be white or black, in their 20s or their 40s but treatment specialists say heroin users have one thing in common: their addiction.
And Beth Kane Davidson, director of Suburban Hospital's Addiction Treatment Center, says many addicts tell themselves "I'll never use heroin."
So how do they end up addicted?
"The pattern is kind of a back door to heroin," she says.
Davidson says many heroin users started abusing prescription drugs, but because pharmacies and doctors have become much more watchful about abuse of prescription drugs, an addict's access to those medications can come to an abrupt halt.
"Suddenly they find heroin: it's available, it's cheaper."
And many users go from snorting it to injecting it-- often all the while denying they are actually addicted.
Just last week, Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warned of an influx of a new and deadly combination drug -- heroin mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80 times more powerful than morphine, and perhaps "hundreds of times more powerful than heroin" according to a DHMH news release. The same news release says 37 deaths across the state have been tied to the tainted heroin.
Apart from heroin tainted with fentanyl, there has been a dramatic rise in the use of heroin across the state, up 54 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Montgomery County has seen an increase in fatal overdoses: 17 since last June, according to law enforcement sources.
Davidson says the risk of overdose is so high because users have no control over the cutting agents in the heroin they are buying or the potency of the heroin itself.
"They don't have control over the exact does, they don't have control over the material," Davidson says.
Montgomery County Police Sgt. Keith Matthis says he sees the evidence of the increase of heroin across the county.
"It's in Bethesda. It's in Rockville. It's in Damascus," he says.
There's no single area affected. Matthis says when speaking to young people, it's clear that
"They don't have any idea of the potency" of heroin, he says. They are aware of the dangers of something like crack cocaine, but in comparison, heroin looks less dangerous, yet Matthis says nothing could be further from the truth.
Davidson says if you believe a loved one may have a problem with any kind of addiction, don't wait and don't be silent.
"You can't wait for that magic moment where someone's going to say to you 'Sure, I'll go with you for an evaluation!'"
And prevention is key. Davidson says talk to your kids about drug use, and keep the lines of communication open.
"Don't wait for a crisis. Start the conversation today, and keep it going."
Here are some resources that may help:
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