The new face of heroin

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The latest figures on heroin show the number of first time users in this country has increased by 60 percent over the last decade to 156,000.

Addiction experts say once hooked, heroin addicts have a tougher time than many other addicts getting clean and sober.

Heroin addiction begins innocently. Prescription pain killers in the family medicine cabinet. But once hooked, an addict goes looking for more pills. On the black market they cost anywhere from 30 to 80 dollars a pill.

Fresno psychiatrist and addiction specialist Dr. Bradley Wajda explained, "Once you've desensitized yourself and start pushing the line, then the economics kick in. Are you going to pay $30.00 for an OxyContin pill or are you going to pay a couple of bucks for a bag of heroin?"
Heroin can be far more dangerous than prescription pain pills.

Dr. Wajda added, "Your street pharmacist, whoever you're buying this heroin from doesn't report to the California board of pharmacy. You have no idea what's in there."

Heroin overdoses accounted for more than 400 calls by Fresno's American Ambulance last year. More than half of those in the city limits.

In the video, you'll see a map that shows how many times they administered a drug called narcan. Narcan or naloxone reverses the deadly effects of heroin. One injection or nasal puff of narcan will bring a heroin addict back from cardiac arrest.

Last month the food and drug administration approved a form of narcan for home use call evzio. Families concerned about members overdosing can obtain a prescription for evzio from their doctor.

Despite the risks, Fresno's Bri Horner couldn't stop using.

"I wanted to be clean," said Bri. "But I couldn't let go. I couldn't let go of my best friend. I couldn't let go of my crutch."

Bri starting using prescription drugs after a car accident at the age of 13. At 19 she was hooked on heroin. Bri's been to residential rehab programs and individual therapy. Over the past year and a half, she's relapsed 19 times. At 24, she has a three-year-old daughter and is infected with hepatitis c, which has permanently damaged her liver.

"It is difficult to get off of because the biggest fear people have is the withdrawal symptoms," said Dr. Wajda. "With the nausea -- body aches, muscle spasms, hot flashes, high blood pressure, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia."

Complete physical withdrawal from heroin takes a week or two. But psychological independence takes much longer. It all comes down to learning new coping skills.

Programs like "12 Steps" can help, but Dr. Wajda believes real change takes place in individual psychotherapy. Sometimes he recommends inpatient treatment to begin with. But he says addicts need to develop healthy coping skills -- ways to deal with what life throws at you without resorting to drugs. That, he says, takes months, if not years.

As for Bri, she's been clean for almost three months this time. She's in individual therapy and is taking medication to help break her addiction.

"I will continue to stay clean," said Bri. "And take it day by day so I can be the mother I'm intended for me to be."

Experts recommend two things to keep your kids away from drugs:

First, lock up all prescription drugs in the house.

Second, allow open communication between you and your children so that when stressors arise, they will talk to you and it will be less likely for them to self-medicate.

Following are resources for both parents and addicts in the Central Valley:

Assessment, Training and Research Associates 559-273-2942

Esano Corporation Addiction Specialists 559-840-4639

Prescription Abusers In Need (P.A.I.N.) 559-579-1551

The Lock It Up Project 559-221-6315

Comprehensive Addiction Program (CAP) Administration: 559-264-5096 Detox: 559-485-6364

Westcare California 559-265-4800
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