Black tar heroin is a crude and relatively cheap form of one of the world’s most addictive drugs, and its use is on the rise in Charlotte. CMPD has said that Charlotte is in the top five in the nation for black tar heroin. Carolinas Healthcare System recently conducted a study of the heroin users in its care, and it might surprise you who they are. WFAE’s Ben Bradford spoke with Robert Martin, the director of substance abuse services for Carolinas Healthcare System.
MARTIN: We see a lot of children of professionals and young professionals using the drug.
BRADFORD: What are the areas of Charlotte where you’re seeing the most predominant use?
MARTIN: We’re seeing it from Matthews, Mint Hill, southern Charlotte, and northern Charlotte in the more affluent areas.
BRADFORD: How do they get into it for the most part?
MARTIN: It’s coming out that prescription drugs are now a gateway drug. A lot of our patients, their first prescription medication, usually an opiate— oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone—drugs that are primarily used to treat pain. These people, a lot of times adolescents, are getting it from their own family medicine cabinet.
When your supply of prescription opiates runs out, if you stop taking opiates altogether, you’re going to go into withdrawal. The only way you can stop that is to ride out the storm, be treated for the withdrawal, or find another opiate to take. And they know that heroin is out there. Sometimes they try to avoid it because they feel that they shouldn’t—that this is some line they shouldn’t cross in their life, but withdrawal is really bad. They hurt to their bone they describe it. So what do you do? You cross that line and you go to heroin and it’s very available in Charlotte.
BRADFORD: And in some cases it can actually be cheaper, is that right?
MARTIN: Yes it can be. Black tar heroin is sold in little balloon knots. About three of them fit the size of a quarter, and they’re $9 apiece, I’m told. And, some dealers will give you a free one if you buy nine, just to keep you coming to them. There’s no loss of supply if you know who to call. It’s very easy to get.
BRADFORD: What does it say about some of these other prescription drugs, legal drugs, oxycodone, Vicodin, and other opiates that they are a gateway?
MARTIN: Sometimes they’re overprescribed. A lot of people, when they’re prescribed an opiate for pain, when the pain goes away they stop taking it, but they still have three quarters of a bottle of opiates. They paid a $25 co-pay, so they’re not throwing them out. People get them from doctors, from emergency rooms, from dentists; they buy them off the street; there’s a lot of ways that they’re getting them. They’re very available.
BRADFORD: What’s the solution here?
MARTIN: We have to do a better job of screening for addiction when we treat people, in all areas of the medical profession. We have to do a better job as a family of talking about addiction, to our children and our loved ones. And, we have to do a better job with people that we love and people that we work with of going, “Hey, you have a problem. You need to get some help.”
BRADFORD: And very quickly, just give me the rundown of how someone who is looking to get treatment, what they should do.
MARTIN: You can call 704-446-0391or 704-304-5248 and ask to speak to any of the professionals.
BRADFORD: Great, thank you so much.
MARTIN: Thank you.
BRADFORD: Robert Martin is the director of substance abuse services for Carolinas Healthcare System.