Regional heroin deaths surge

02.05.14 | Bob Price

An abundance of cheap and impure heroin across the region led to a sharp rise in deadly overdoses last year, with fatalities doubling over the previous year and surging more than fivefold since 2011, according to data released Tuesday by the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Heroin killed 65 people in the region in 2013, compared to 29 the previous year and 11 in all of 2011. Counties reporting heroin-related deaths include Monroe, Livingston, Chemung, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben and Wyoming.

The dramatic increase reflects a heroin epidemic sweeping the nation, but that is particularly potent in the Northeast, where the crystalline powder is ubiquitous and inexpensive, with hits selling for as little as the cost of a six-pack of beer.

Attention to the problem intensified this week with the sudden death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, a native of Fairport. Hoffman was found dead Sunday in his office apartment in New York City with a needle in his arm and heroin nearby.

One reason for the jump in heroin use and availability is a tightened supply of prescription painkillers, which like heroin are opiates and highly addictive, but far more expensive. Heroin is considered one of the most addictive drugs in the world.

“The cocaine problem was huge in this country back in the 1980s,” said Tony Klein, who manages the Unity Chemical Dependency Clinic in Brighton. “I would say what’s happening now with heroin is much more serious.

“It’s very scary not only how we’ve seen this mushroom into the big problem that it’s become, but people are pretty naive about it.”

The statistics suggest that users are trending younger than ever, lured by street prices that range from $6 to $10 per hit, a tiny bag often called a “deck.”

Roughly a quarter of the region’s heroin overdose victims between 2011 and 2013 were 24 years and younger. Nearly two-thirds were under 35 years of age.

The vast majority of them were white men. Across the board, 82 percent of all overdose victims were white and 80 percent were men, according to the statistics.