Toll of Heroin! 

Toll of Heroin! 
Posted by FoM on January 05, 1999 at 13:39:10 PT

The Heroin that killed singer Boz Scaggs' son on New Year's Eve is a potent form that during the 1990s has lured more people from various walks of life into using a drug once associated only with skid-row junkies. 
In years past, when street-grade heroin was 3 to 5 percent pure, injecting it was the only way to get a decent high. But during the past decade, purity has shot up to as much as 50 or 60 percent, while the price has fallen to as little as $40 a gram. The result: More people have been willing to snort and smoke it. While those methods don't produce as strong a high, they are less intimidating. It was not known Monday what method Oscar Scaggs used to ingest the fatal dose of heroin. "It's getting more common now, and people are not shooting it as much anymore. We're finding a lot more people who are smoking it. They call it "Chasing the Dragon,' " said Inspector Matt Hanley, who has spent more than 10 years in San Francisco Police Department's narcotics division. The "dragon" reference is to the way the heroin smoke swirls up from a heated base - usually empty pen tubes or straws - as users draw it into their lungs. "Now you've got people who are growing up in the Sunset using it," Hanley said. "A lot of blue-collar people are calling their connection at six in the morning and they're shooting up and snorting it, putting it in Visine bottles. "They take a little snort all day long," Hanley continued. "It helps them relax and fight off the fits they get when they don't have it." San Francisco ranks third after Baltimore and Newark, N.J., in per capita heroin-related hospital admissions, and the drug is believed to be The City's second-most popular illicit drug, after marijuana. Still, while the number of heroin addicts in San Francisco is now at about 13,000, an all-time high, the trend seems to be steady, said John Newmeyer, epidemiologist with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. "It's more serious than it was in 1990, but since 1994, the increases have not been impressive," Newmeyer said. "It's up to a new peak, as high as any peak in the last 30 years, but there doesn't seem to be much further upward direction." And while there have been reports that more young people are becoming attracted to the drug, Newmeyer said the median age of heroin addicts in The City is surprisingly high - close to 40. Most are white, followed by African Americans and Hispanics. Only a small percentage, less than 4 percent, are Asian, although Asians account for a significant portion of San Francisco's population. Newmeyer agreed that some younger and middle-class people have gotten involved with the drug, but said he hasn't witnessed the kind of explosion many expected following the huge price drop in heroin over the last several years. Heroin is now about one-quarter as expensive as it once was. During a 12-month period in 1995 and 1996, heroin overdose deaths in The City reached an all-time high of 153, but fell the next 12 months to 107, Newmeyer said. Alice Gleghorn of The City's Department of Public Health said that while heroin use among teenagers remains low nationwide, those who are using it are much more likely to sniff or smoke it than in the past. David E. Smith, founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, said he's convinced that heroin dealers are targeting young people as aggressively as cigarette makers have. Three families he has known - Scaggs, the family of romance novelist Danielle Steel, and the family of a childhood friend from Bakersfield - have all had to bury sons who overdosed on heroin in the past 15 months. In Oscar Scaggs' case, Smith's wife had been working with the 21-year-old on keeping him off heroin, and she thought he was doing well. As a result, she said, his tolerance may have been down when he went to a Mission District hotel and took a dose that may have been more potent than he expected. "The kids don't know whether it's 6 percent or 60 percent. It's buyer beware," Smith said. Oscar Scaggs' death clearly hit home with Smith, who has four children, ages 17 to 24. His son Christopher, 18, was a friend of both Oscar Scaggs and of Steel's son, Nicholas Traina, through the San Francisco music scene. "My son was holding my wife yesterday as she was crying over Oscar's death. I hope the kids remember that," he said. He said heroin dealers have learned how to attract customers by flooding the market with the cheap, potent product. Once people are hooked, the dealers can cut it and raise the prices. "Just like the tobacco industry, it's in a very immoral way marketed to youth. They must have gone to the same business school," Smith said. Quitting heroin is extremely hard, and few people manage it successfully. Instead, many experts believe in methadone maintenance as a way to keep addicts' cravings at bay, allowing them to return to somewhat normal lives. However, methadone is strictly regulated by the federal government and is only available to about 2,000 addicts here. Supervisor Gavin Newsom has led The City's legislative effort to win federal approval for a sweeping methadone access waiver that would be the single largest program of its kind in the country. Unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors last February, the waiver would allow private physicians in The City to dispense the medicine. A 25-member panel of physicians, city health officials and other experts hopes to complete a detailed proposal for federal drug officials by March. Newsom said he's "incredibly optimistic" that the plan will be accepted. If it is, it could be in place as early as the end of this year, he said. 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #2 posted by kenneth blake on August 09, 2000 at 23:48:32 PT:
I would like to know where I could go to get free or cheap help with out going on methadone. I am a fifteen year user, I inject. But I will do anything to get it my system. I work full time so it's hard to get the time off work to kick. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. Half the time I wish I were dead rather than go through more days of my hell of using and hustling to get my dope. I'm married with two beautiful children and what I'm doing is not fair to any of us. If it were not for my wife and kids, I would probably give myself a lethal dose and my self inflicted pain and misery. Please let me know where I can get some help. I raelly want to quit this crap. Thank You Very Much. Kenneth Blake
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by sue on May 20, 2000 at 10:21:50 PT:
chasing the dragon
i would like to know the percentage of chasing the dragon deaths compared to injecting heroin in the last 3-4 years. how dangerous is it to smoke compared to injecting it and the dangers of combining prescription medication with smoking it. also i would like information from literature on this. thankyou sue nichols
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: