By the time Tyler was 26 he had tried everything from marijuana to ecstasy to cocaine to morphine— eventually becoming hooked on percocet. He paid about $35 per pill to keep up this habit, until a friend introduced him to a cheaper alternative: heroin.
The Enfield resident, whose name has been withheld to protect his privacy, described the high as “pure euphoria, it’s the ultimate high. I felt like Superman.” Fearing the worst, his parents convinced him to enter rehab, and he’s been sober for one year.
But he’s one of the fortunate in Connecticut.
Opioid pills and heroin are making a lethal comeback among young adults in Connecticut communities.
The drugs of choice are no longer uppers, including cocaine, but rather downer drugs, particularly opioid pills and heroin. Between 2012 and September 2015, the average age of death in Connecticut for those with heroin in their system was 38, while for cocaine the average age was 43.
Within the past three years, Connecticut has seen a significant increase in users and deaths because of overdoses from both heroin and opioid pills.
The data, obtained through Data Connecticut and provided by the chief medical examiner’s office, show a spike in 2013 in the overdose death rates from heroin and opioid pills. Rates continued to rise gradually in 2014, and data through September 2015 demonstrate a continuing rise.
Drug addiction claimed nearly 47,000 lives in 2014 throughout the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increased addiction to opioids has become a national public health crisis, prompting Gov. Dannel Malloy to sign a bill in July 2015 meant to assist in curbing substance abuse and opioid overdoses.
According to the Connecticut data, Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Bridgeport and Norwich are the Connecticut cities where overdoses from both heroin and opioid pain pills are most common.
When adjusted for population, municipalities like New London and Sprague have a higher overdose rate— and some of the smaller, suburban and rural towns with populations under 10,000, such as Sharon and North Canaan, have at least three deaths from heroin or opioid pills or a combination. Because of their small populations, these towns have a relatively higher death rate than some of the larger cities.
In most instances, this heroin addiction usually begins with a preliminary addiction to some sort of opioid pain pill, such as oxycodone, methadone, morphine and fentanyl, according to officials.
The transition from pills to heroin occurs for various reasons— usually cost, accessibility or the desire to achieve a better high. More options for taking heroin, besides shooting up with a needle, make the drug more appealing to a broader range of people. Users can now smoke it, swallow it or snort it.
According to Tyler, opioid pills sell for a minimum of $30 and can reach price tags as high as hundreds of dollars per pill; whereas heroin sells for $10 a hit. Thus, dealers tend to offer package deals, allowing users to make their supplies last longer and to get the most out of what they’ve paid for, said Tyler.
“I’ve seen a lot of addicts where that addiction [to pain pills] goes to heroin because it’s cheaper,” said Diane McCabe, a nurse at Hartford Hospital who works in the maternal fetal medicine outpatient clinic for high-risk pregnancies. “Young kids are selling it on the street from wherever they can steal it from.”
McCabe said that about 20 percent of her pregnant patients are drug addicts, and most are still using during their pregnancy. To prevent these women from buying heroin off the street, workers prescribe methadone so they won’t suffer from withdrawal.
She also continues to care for high-risk patients after delivery, since their children are almost always born suffering from methadone withdrawal.
McCabe said the biggest complaint hospitals face from patients is about inadequate pain control.
Overprescription of pain medications is a major factor in the increase of opioid addiction, according to McCabe, who said patients typically go home with a prescription for 30 to 50 percocets.
“I’ve been a nurse for 30 years and have seen an increase in users and an increase in the reliance on methadone,” said McCabe. “We’re abusing methadone and over-prescribing on that.”
Ten milligrams a day of methadone is what’s recommended for recovering heroin addicts who are taking this supplemental opioid to help them wean off street heroin. That amount is equivalent to using one bag of heroin a day.
According to McCabe, hospitals are giving their patients up to 200 milligrams of methadone a day. “The thinking is, we don’t want them to go out and use on the streets,” she said.
To beat his addiction, Tyler was prescribed naltrexone, an “opiate antagonist” which is used to help ease users off the opioid they’re addicted to by blocking its action.
Tyler said he became addicted to heroin after the first hit, since it was now substituting for the pills.
Eventually, the euphoric feeling drastically decreased to sickness – Tyler was now taking heroin just to feel normal and to counteract the illness he felt throughout his body, then taking more to achieve a high. He said he found himself “speed balling,” mixing heroin with cocaine, just to feel a better high by combating the downer effects of heroin with an upper drug such as cocaine that would provide him with more energy.
Tyler’s family staged an intervention and sent him to a rehab facility in Florida — he has been sober following a year out of rehab. By regularly attending therapy sessions, he worked on the underlying issues that lead to his addictions.
“My biggest regrets are hurting my family, the lost time and money and the damage caused to my body,” he said.
Trend CT welcomes data-inspired stories from contributors. Check our guidelines for more information.