The term "New England" conjures images of the quaint colonial towns of Massachusetts, fishing villages of Maine, lush green pastures of Vermont, and winding cobblestone roads of Rhode Island, but the quiet and charming region also has a dark side.
Heroin, a drug that has historically been prevalent in America's large urban centers, has "been making an alarming comeback in the smaller cities and towns of New England," according to the New York Times.
Heroin is an opiate that can be injected, snorted, or smoked. It is one of the most addictive drugs, and it creates both physical and mental dependence for users.
Last week, Cory Monteith's autopsy and toxicology report revealed that the 31-year-old Glee star died from a lethal combination of heroin and alcohol. Monteith's death is helping to bring to light some of the frightening and shocking trends regarding heroin use in the United States.
According to NBC, Monteith's death came as a shock because, "most Americans aren’t familiar with the new realities of heroin." User demographics have changed drastically over the past decade. According to Dr. Richard Clark, of the University of California San Diego Medical Center, the stereotypical street user is no longer characteristic of heroin users in the United States. Cory Monteith, "a white male in his 30s," epitomizes the new profile.
Small New England cities are witnessing an upsurge in heroin abuse. According to New England addiction specialist Dr. Mark Publicker, “it’s easier to get heroin in some of these places than it is to get a UPS delivery.”
Portland, Maine, a waterfront city known for its artsy vibe, has experienced the worsening problem. “We’ve got overdose deaths in the bathrooms of fast-food restaurants. This is an increase like we haven’t seen in many years,” said Vern Malloch, an assistant chief of the Portland Police Department. According to The New York Times, there were 21 deaths from heroin overdoses in the state of Maine in 2012, a threefold increase over 2011.
Drug addiction specialists attribute the rising number of overdoses to the fact that many users are purchasing impure heroin that is laced with other substances. The adulterants are often lethal, according to a video from the New York Times.
In addition, heroin is becoming cheaper and more plentiful. According to NBC, the drug is now being produced in Mexico and South America, reducing the cost of transportation to the United States. While the new supply chain makes heroin cheaper overall, it remains expensive in remote areas of New England. According to the New York Times, a bag of the extremely addicting drug that sells for $6 in New York City costs as much as $40 in northern New England.
As a result, heroin use in New England has largely been growing among members of the middle class. Increasing heroin use by teenagers from middle-class suburban towns has contributed to the upsurge, according to Slate. Many such users start out abusing prescription drugs such as oxycodone, but switch to heroin because it is significantly more affordable.
Cory Monteith's death was a tragedy, especially given that the star had checked himself into rehab and attempted to turn his life around less than a year ago. Although he did not overcome his addiction, the story of Monteith's battle to get clean is helping to reveal misconceptions about our country's growing heroin problem.