Heroin's Deadly Toll in Reno - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Heroin's Deadly Toll in Reno

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If heroin is to blame for his death, Philip Seymour Hoffman certainly won't be alone. Heroin is enjoying a new popularity. Far from the big cities, where celebrity deaths grab the headlines, John Firestone at the Life Change Center would like you to know people in Reno die from heroin too. As he put it, "It is a tragedy, but there are people who die all the time of heroin overdoses. Just because he's a movie star we pay more attention. But the reality is they're all tragic."

It's just part of the trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people who say they have used heroin in the past year jumped 53.5% to 620,000 between 2002 to 2011. Overdose deaths are up too…a 55% increase from 2000 to 2010.

But here in Nevada, its use may be rising at an even faster clip. Nevada ranks 3rd in the nation for fatal drug overdoses. Alcohol used to be the main reason why people in Reno went into rehab. Now, it's prescription drugs. But heroin is actually gaining, and fast. Lately, it's taken a turn for the worse.

Stacy Ward has been on the front lines of fighting drugs here for 6 years. The drug abuse prevention coordinator with the Reno Police Department told me, "I know when it comes to overdoses, Nevada consistently is one of the highest in the nation."

Take a look the seizures of heroin made by the Reno Police Department. In 2012 they were almost 3 times what they were in 2009, and 27 times what was seized in 2007:

Reno Police Department heroin seizures (data from the Regional Street Enforcement Team):

In 2012: 1632.5 grams

In 2009: 680 grams

In 2007: 59 grams

As John Firestone told us, "When I was young, heroin was like an inner city drug, it was almost like a myth. But today, younger people are using it. I'm talking younger people, in junior high school." And he says heroin addicts here are also getting younger: "In the last 8 years that I've worked in this field, the average age of a person in treatment was 45 back in 2005. And it's currently 28."

This is personal for John. He's gotten to know the ones who came in for rehab. Some don't make it. As for why this terrible drug is taking off like it is, blame prescription drug abuse. Heroin is a seen as a cheap alternative to the pills. It's a story Eric Ohlson of Join Together Northern Nevada has heard time and time again. Those kids who are hooked on pills later find that heroin gives the same high at a much cheaper cost. As he told me, "Something like Oxycontin can be very expensive for someone to maintain, and they have cheaper access to heroin."

If there's good news to be found in this latest celebrity death, it's that more are seeking help. John Firestone admitted 4 people seeking help from addiction, within 24 hours of the time Hoffman's death hit the news. But he is certain that the deadly nature of this often-fatal drug means overdoses will continue to take a tragic toll: "It's a big problem in our community. It's not an inner city problem. It's a middle class problem. It's a suburb problem. It's here in Reno."

-written by John Potter

The Life Change Center and Join Together Northern Nevada both have great online resources for those who want to fight heroin use and addicts who want to quit. To learn more about help available in northern Nevada, click the links below:



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