Nevada’s Youth Turning to Heroin

Nevada’s Youth Turning to Heroin

Dan Piirainen told Nevada’s News 4 that he watched some of his lifelong friends’ lives turn upside-down as they experimented with heroin. A group of his friends started using the dangerous drug at young ages, some as young as 17.

"One friend would do it. They would pass it on. It would just get bigger and bigger. Now the monster is out of control," Piirainen said. "They always chose the drug over friendship and family. They didn’t care."

Heroin use in northern Nevada is climbing at an alarming rate, but the Regional Street Enforcement Team says the situation is even more concerning because more and more young people are turning to the drug.

"We used to see a heroin addict be a 30- or 40-year-old person who has been using for a couple of years, and they inject it or IV-use heroin. But today, a lot more young people are using it," said Sgt. Mac Venzon of the Street Enforcement Team. Venzon says they are seeing people ages 17 to 20 "stuck in the heroin loop that they just can’t get out of."

The Street Enforcement Team has been recovering more and more heroin from the streets over the past couple of years. In 2006, they seized 6.4 grams. It climbed to 59.1 grams and 195 grams in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

The amount of heroin recovered has skyrocketed so far in 2009. The Street Enforcement Team seized 513.9 grams of heroin in the first half of this year alone, which is on pace for 2009 to have more than a 400 percent increase from 2008.

Data also shows the number of arrests for heroin charges in Washoe County is rising. Arrests doubled from 19 in 2007 to 46 in 2008. 56 heroin arrests are in books through the first half of 2009.

The Street Enforcement Team believes there is a link between prescription drug abuse and heroin. Heroin and many painkillers are opiate-based drugs, so once a user becomes addicted to the prescription drug, the "turn to heroin is not that far away,” Venzon said.

Venzon says the street price of heroin can actually be cheaper than buying pills. A small balloon of heroin goes for about $10, according to Venzon.

Piirainen says the problem is spiraling out of control. "Don’t think you can try it once and not do it again. It’s not even worth it," he said.

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