Heroin use on the rise
“Laura” recently fell asleep for the first time in nearly a month.
She stopped using heroin 31 days earlier, and was so sick from the withdrawal she could only lie in bed, or pace. Sometimes she had terrible hallucinations.
“I literally started sleeping just three days ago,” Laura said Thursday at the Sierra Recovery Center where she is a patient.
She was hospitalized for sleep deprivation. One night the hallucinations were so real she shattered a window.
“It was awful,” Laura said. “I really believed that someone was coming through the window.”
After 20 years of using heroin or speedballs, which are heroin mixed with cocaine, Laura is one of the few people who has been able to break her addiction.
“I don’t know too many people who have kicked heroin,” she said. “Most people have died.”
Laura and another recovering addict, “Nicole,” said heroin’s seductive high is making its use more common, and its potency creating another generation of addicts.
“(Heroin) feels like going home,” Nicole said. “It’s like you have been cold for your whole life and you’re warm for the first time.”
In addition Nicole said the drug’s glamourous reputation and its wide availability have made heroin more popular than ever with teen-agers.
“There are more people using heroin today than ever before, and because you can smoke it, for the young kids, it’s convenient as hell,” Laura said.
There have been three recent deaths at South Shore suspected to have involved heroin.
Just three years ago heroin was far more difficult to get. Today, Laura said, it would take less than 20 minutes “to score” in South Lake Tahoe.
The ease with which Laura and Nicole said people can obtain heroin in South Lake Tahoe is accurate according to Leah Rhodes, the director of Sierra Recovery’s inpatient center.
“You could get high in two minutes in this neighborhood,” Rhodes said from the inpatient center at 2677 Reaves St.
“I know that (drugs) are very prevalent,” Rhodes said.
According to Rhodes the characteristics of drugs addiction in South Lake Tahoe are typical of those in much larger cities.
Laura and Nicole’s stories echoed Rhodes’ statements.
“You can smell the crank (an amphetamine mixed with household chemicals) in the air at night around here,” Laura said.
She and Nicole said that drug, and heroin, use is no different in South Lake Tahoe than in any other city.
Laura said, “Tahoe is the same as any other city,” and Nicole estimated that there are hundreds of people who use heroin in the community.
Law enforcement officials confirmed wide availability of drugs in some South Shore areas, and South Lake Tahoe Police Detective Martin Hewlett said heroin is a growing problem.
“We have known it has always been there, but we are starting to see a lot more of it,” Hewlett said.
Hewlett said the crime associated with heroin addiction is a great concern. When an addict turns to crime as a source of income to support their habit, they will typically receive only 10 cents on the dollar for stolen items.
“That means,” Hewlett said, “If a person is stealing to feed his habit, and he is spending $100 a day, that’s $1,000 in merchandise he has taken.”
Laura and Nicole agreed that crimes committed by heroin addicts are rampant because they cannot stop using the drug.
While one dose of heroin might not be expensive, Laura said it is never enough.
“One bag a day becomes bag after bag a day. There is no way around that. There is no way to know what you are getting into.”
Nicole said it is often difficult for people who don’t use drugs to spot those who do, and that police often have a difficult time catching dealers.
“You get a radar,” Nicole said. “Straight people can’t tell, but we know who is selling.”
She also said she can “feel” if someone uses heroin.
“We exude scandal and desperation,” Nicole said.
The speed with which drug deals take place, and the fact that they are done covertly cause problems for police.
“If they are done behind closed doors they may be difficult to locate,” Hewlett said.
Hewlett added that there is no set profile of a heroin user. “It’s not like big cities where you have a lot of hand-to-hand exchanges out in the open.”
Stricter drug penalties are a small deterrent Laura said, and according to Nicole, heroin is so powerful not even the threat of death can make addicts stop.
“It’s sick,” Nicole said, “But when someone would die, or their face would turn blue … everyone would ask ‘Where did they get their dope?'”
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