Heroin use, overdose deaths rising in Kansas

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Some states, including Kansas, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in Kansas:

THE PROBLEM:

“We are, of course, concerned about heroin use in our state,” said Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. “One life destroyed by this drug is one too many. But Kansas ranks relatively low compared to other states in heroin use rates,” she said.

The agency, which oversees treatment and prevention programs for substance abuse, said Kansas has more of a problem in the misuse of prescription drugs.

“We would not characterize heroin use as our most pressing challenge at this time,” she said.

THE NUMBERS:

Heroin overdose deaths have remained in the single digits over the past decade in Kansas, until a spike to 12 in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. The number of people reporting they’ve used heroin has grown steadily since 2009, while the number of people seeking treatment primarily for heroin has nearly doubled in the past six years, to 198 in 2013.

The Kansas Highway Patrol recovered 10,208 grams of heroin last year, down from 44,489 grams in 2012. But both years are up significantly since 2009, when no heroin was seized by the agency.

The 12 heroin deaths reported for 2012 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment represents a marked rise for the state. Between 1999 and 2007, Kansas recorded anywhere from zero to two deaths in any single year. That began to change in 2008, with seven heroin deaths, fluctuating only slightly in subsequent years until hitting 12 deaths in 2012.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has also tracked a growing number of patients at the state’s nine methadone clinics seeking treatment for heroin dependence. Of the 198 people treated in 2013 primarily for heroin abuse, 119 were men. Most were also young adults, with 62 of them falling in the 20- to 24-year-old age group.

SOLUTIONS:

Kansas made some changes last year in its criminal sentencing laws to allow dealers to be held culpable in drug-related deaths, though the changes weren’t specifically tied to heroin. Kansas lawmakers also recently updated sentencing guidelines so that heroin and cocaine are dealt with more harshly than marijuana.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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