NC9 Special Report: Heroin use spiking in the Borderland


POSTED: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 10:27pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 10:40pm

A huge spike in heroin use across this country has law enforcement scrambling to react. The number of users has almost doubled in the U.S. over the past decade, while overdose deaths here in Texas have more than tripled.

El Pasoan Raphael Cervantes has learned about heroin's addictive powers the hard way. He began experimenting with drugs when he was just 13 years-old.

"I met someone using heroin, and then curiousity, one thing led to another and I started using heroin," he said. "It just took over. It took over."

Before he knew it, Raphael was shooting up five, even six times a day. The euphoria was almost impossible to describe. However, it came at a price. Raphael lost friends, jobs, and the respect of those who were closest to him.

"People don't look at you the same because of the stuff you've put them through. it's a ripple effect. If you hurt yourself, the people around you are going to get hurt," said Cervantes.

Raphael's story is a common one. Nationwide heroin use is shooting up at an alarming rate. The number of heroin users in 2012 is almost double that from 2007. El Paso is no exception.

Guillermo Valenzuela is the Community Affairs Officer at Aliviane, one of El Paso's two methadone clinics. From August of 2012 to August of 2013, Aliviane treated 125 patients. They're already at 210 this year with 5 months to go.

One of the major reasons behind the spike?

A nationwide crackdown on prescription pill abuse. New regulations and beefed up law enforcement have greatly reduced the supply, but at the expense of heroin.

Former pill abusers are being inadvertently driven to what's become the cheaper and more accessible alternative. A hit of heroin provides a similar high, and costs as little as $10.

"If it's going to cost you $300 to buy the prescription drugs compared to the $50 for the heroin, you do the math," said Valenzuela.

Police seizures of heroin are also spiking, approaching yearly totals from 2012 and 2013 with more than eight months of the year still to go.

"Yes. It's probably one of the least expensive narcotics that you can find out there," said Darrel Petry with the El Paso Police Department.

Petry says a rise in heroin use typically also means a spike in other crimes.

"It's usually going to be a burglary, a home, a storage shed, a vehicle," said Petry.

Our proximity to the border is helping fuel the problem. In Juarez, an estimated 47,000 people are in need of treatment, and the city now ranks second in all of Mexico for heroin consumption.

"How is that important to us?" said Valenzuela. "Or why should that be important to us? If someone is a heroin user here they also have the ability to go to Juarez. Downtown is walking distance, and they can purchase the drug at a cheaper cost," said Valenzuela.

Unlike some drugs, you only have to use once to become addicted to heroin.

"I never thought it could be physically addicting. This isn't child's play. It's not tobacco. It's not like a cup of coffee," said Cervantes.

Guillermo Valenzuala says half the battle to tackling America's heroin epidemic is changing perception. He says drug addiction is a chronic illness, just like diabetes.

"Just like diabetes you need to go into treatment. You need to follow your doctor's instructions. You need to take your medicine, and you can live a healthy lifestyle," said Valenzuela.

Raphael is now on a waiting list to start detox for a third time. It's not a process he's looking forward to.

"You get constipated. Your body shuts down. Basically it's like you have the flu to the 3rd power. It's pretty bad," described Cervantes.

But it's something he knows he must endure if he wants to have any chance of coming clean and finally turning his life around.

"If i knew then what I knew now, I never would have touched it. It's not something that should be out there for people to use," said Cervantes.

Valenzuela says a tolerance for lower level drugs like marijuana is also fueling the spike in heroin, as users graduate to harder drugs.


If you are addicted to heroin and need help, please contact one of the resources listed below:

Here in El Paso, Aliviane can be reached at 915-782-4000.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a toll-free and confidential hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing assistance in English and Spanish for individuals and family members facing substance abuse and mental health issues. In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357).

Find alcohol and drug abuse treatment or mental health treatment facilities and programs around the country using the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator on SAMHSA's web site

The Partnership at DrugFree.orgprovides a toll-free helpline and nationwide support service for parents (and other primary caregivers of children) who want to talk to someone about their child's drug use and drinking. The Helpline number is 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373) and is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET. (Closed weekends and holidays.)

Learn2Cope is a support organization for parents and family members dealing with loved ones addicted to opiates and other drugs. The organization has chapters throughout Massachusetts. Call Learn2Cope at 508-738-5148.

Drug Crisis in Our Backyard is a grass-roots support group located in Putnam County, N.Y.

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