Heroin use in Arkansas up

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Some states are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. Here’s a look at what’s happening in Arkansas:

THE PROBLEM

While heroin use has grown since nearly a decade ago, the state’s health department says prescription drug abuse ranks higher on the state’s list of health problems.

“Heroin is always a concern,” said Kerry Krell, the Arkansas Health Department’s spokesman. “Any illicit drug use is a concern, but so far we haven’t seen heroin to be a huge issue in Arkansas.”

Charles Kokes, the chief medical examiner for the state’s crime laboratory, said deaths caused from heroin are rare in Arkansas. He added the most common drug death seen include multiple prescription medications.

“I’ve been here over 20 years at this point in time, and deaths from heroin have been very uncommon,” he said. “It’s not something that, at least in the past from our perspective in the medical examiner’s office, ... that has been a big problem.”

THE NUMBERS

Since 2003, the number of heroin-related drug cases sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has gradually climbed. Three drug cases were received in 2003, and five years later, that number jumped to 22. The number of cases peaked at 62 in 2012, but dropped to 35 in 2013. As of Feb. 14, the state’s crime laboratory has received 6 heroin-related, drug cases.

There have been 27 heroin-related deaths between 2000 and 2012, the latest dates for which the figures were available from the state’s health department. The victim’s average age was 40.6 years old. About 93 percent of those who died were male, and about 89 percent were white.

Because of the low numbers, Krell said the figures had to be released in aggregate years. She warned that because not all those who die receive blood toxicology results to confirm a heroin presence, the total number of heroin-related deaths could be higher.

Information about the total number of heroin users and those seeking treatment in Arkansas is not available, according to the state’s Department of Human Services spokesman Kate Luck.

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