POSTED: Friday, May 10, 2013 - 10:40pm
UPDATED: Friday, May 17, 2013 - 9:08am
Las Cruces, NM (KTSM) — It only takes a second to get hooked. On Thursday we introduced you to Veronica, an 18 year-old Las Cruces woman who started using heroin a year and a half ago. She remembers the decision like it was yesterday.
"They're like, you don't even have to look or anything and then you just do it," she said.
Now Veronica is trying to stop, but she's struggling. Fortunately, she's found a new tool to help. It's called Suboxone, a medical cocktail of sorts, packed into a tiny strip. It helps with the cravings and the withdrawals.
"You get cold sweats and you're nauseous and your body aches and you just can't sleep and you toss and turn and it's just awful," she said.
But Suboxone itself is addictive, and its now being sold on the black market. In the past three years, Suboxone related cases in Dona Ana County have skyrocketed from zero just two years ago to more than 50 so far this year. Suboxone is quickly becoming the drug of choice.
"I think from a law enforcement perspective it's certainly a problem," said Kelly Jameson with the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office.
But Suboxone isn't just a problem on the streets of New Mexico. It's also a problem behind bars at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.
"It's flooded our system and taken over where heroin used to be. The amount its sold for in an institution creates a huge market. A strip will average $80 to $100," said James Mulheron with the prison's Security Threat Intelligence Unit.
Suboxone is illegal in prison, but because you can obtain legally on the outside it's much cheaper than heroin, and it's also much easier to smuggle into the system. Suboxone comes in tiny strips, and is often smuggled into prison in mail, hidden between pages of paper glued together.
"When you look at it and it's all put together you can't tell," said Mulheron.
It's even been smuggled in on a children's painting.
"You have to stay on top of it. The day you identify how it's happening, the next day it changes," said Mulheron.
But for all the problems that Suboxone is causing in the prisons and on the streets, there's also evidence it works. The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a study of 650 addicts and 49% decreased or completely stopped using heroin after 12 weeks.
For drug users like Veronica, that's hope. Hope that she'll be able to one day overcome her heroin withdrawals and ultimately be drug free thanks to suboxone.
Most addicts are prescribed Suboxone for three to six months and then are slowly weaned off the drug. Some though, will take it much longer and patients on Suboxone do have a high rate of relapse, almost 90% according to some studies.