Back in the 70s, heroin was mostly filler, and the good stuff was 5% pure or so. Nowadays a new, more potent, version of the stuff is killing people all around the country with widely varying purities as high as 90%.
What makes black tar dangerous
When heroin was weak, shooting it was the best way to get high, which kept many people away from it. But this relatively new stuff (it’s been around California for a while), brought in from Mexico and known by the name Black Tar, is strong enough to make smoking, or snorting, it a viable option for a nice long high. It’s a much easier sell for the dealers too – no more ugly needles, they tell their customers you can “just smoke it like weed,” which is true until you get hooked.
Like any other form of heroin, black tar will cause some serious changes in a user’s body and brain, messing with the body’s pain, digestion, and mood systems. The problem is that at these purity levels, the chance of a user overdosing are much higher too, and that’s where the body-count comes in.
The stuff is cheap, at least in relation to the old heroin that used to come in from the far-east, but the body count’s mounting and the problems only getting worse. Heroin overdose death rates have gone up at 20%-50% and they’re still going strong. Many of the people who are most concerned about this are hoping that heroin doesn’t bring about the same epidemic that crack did in the 80s.
Avoiding death by talking
As usual, I don’t believe in running away from a problem like this. Instead, this is exactly the kind of thing that education, information, and a good dose of harm reduction can fix. We need to make sure people know that the potency of this stuff can kill you. The only way to make sure that less people die from black-tar heroin is to let them know that they need to be careful with it because one mistake can mean death.
I’m hardly ever the “just say no” type and I think that in this situation, an approach like that will leave us in deeper and deeper trouble. The AP article I based this on talked about yearly seizures of heroin quadrupling to 86 kilograms across the U.S.-Mexico border last year. By comparison, cocaine seizures in 2008 totaled more than 8000 Kilos! I can tell you one thing, as someone with experience as a drug dealer, getting 86 kilos across the border isn’t that hard with the amount of Mexican corruption and “help” dealers can get. Where’s there’s money, there’s a way, and it seems that this heroin trend is offering up some money.
It’s that experience of mine that makes me believe we have to work towards understanding addiction and who develops it, and getting better at prevention, intervention, and treatment. Try as we might, solving this problem by the supply side isn’t going to work, I don’t care how hard Calderon is willing to fight.