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Heroin use on the rise

Bundles of confiscated heroin  

Experts blame increased purity, lower cost -- and Hollywood

February 22, 1998
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EST (0310 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Doctors say you can die from a single use of heroin, and yet abuse of the drug is on the upswing in the United States.

Experts attribute the increase to several factors: Worldwide production of heroin is up, and the price of the drug is down.

What alarms officials most is that the drug's purity is greater than ever before.

In the 1970s, addicts were using 7 percent pure heroin. Today, purity can run between 40 and 60 percent, said Bob Bender of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The increased purity results in users snorting and smoking rather than injecting heroin.

vxtreme CNN's Charles Feldman takes a look at this stronger, purer form of heroin.

The increased use of heroin is evident in the rising number of hospital emergency room admissions resulting from use of the drug. In 1990, there were about 34,000 hospital room admissions. Four years later, that number had doubled.

Heroin, which is derived from morphine, initially produces a feeling of euphoria that often is followed by drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. Users may experience constricted pupils, watery eyes and itching, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Christian Slater
Christian Slater and . . .  
Robert Downey Jr.
. . . Robert Downey Jr. were both jailed for heroin offenses  

An overdose may produce slow and shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma and death.

Experts say many of the new heroin abusers do not fit the stereotype of the addict: College students, young adults and Wall Street executives from the baby boom generation are among the new heroin abusers.

"It is unfortunate that heroin has become glamorized because heroin is a very dangerous drug and some of the situations that have occurred recently have been young people or college students that have used heroin for the first time, not knowing the dangers of the drug," said Dr. Phil Schwarzman of St. Joseph Medical Center.

Some blame Hollywood for the increase of young heroin addicts, citing use by actors including Christian Slater and Robert Downey Jr., both of whom are serving time.

"In the '80s, there was great publicity on cocaine, and a lot of movie stars and sports stars were convicted and caught with cocaine," said Mike Neely, who works with a homeless outreach program. "Now, we're getting a cycle of a number of your Hollywood figures being caught with heroin."

Another complication is that heroin is often being used with other drugs, such as methamphetamine or cocaine.

Experts say such use makes for a potentially lethal cocktail.

Correspondent Charles Feldman contributed to this report


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