Teen Heroin Use Keeps Rising in Suburbia

By Tony O'Neill 03/18/13

"Almost all of them say they started with prescription drugs," says an expert.

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It started with prescription drugs. Photo via

Heroin use among young people is continuing to rise in suburban towns across the US—following on from the spike in teen prescription drug abuse. Back in 2011, authorities noted that Chicago teens were increasingly "graduating" to heroin after getting hooked on prescription opiates like Oxy. And as The Fix reported last year, many young people in recovery for heroin addiction say the first opiate they tried was a prescription painkiller. And a surge of media reports suggest that the problem is continuing to snowball. “Heroin is an opioid, so the natural progression here is that people become addicted to prescription opioids first, and then when they can no longer afford or no longer obtain prescription opioids, they move on to heroin,” explains Orman Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. The number of heroin overdoses in northwest Ohio has been steadily increasing: 14 in 2010, 31 in 2011 and 55 last year. As of February 2013, 14 overdose deaths have been reported, according to the Lucas County coroner’s office. One of the victims is 25-year-old Matthew Schroeder, who overdosed at his parents’ house late last year, after a struggle with opiate addiction. “Matt didn’t just wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to try heroin,’” says his mother, who blames his addiction on her son being prescribed an array of pharmaceuticals during his teens. 

Reports from McHenry County, Illinois, reveal the same pattern. "In my 29 years of law enforcement, when you talked of heroin, it was inner city," says McHenry County Police Sgt. John Lawson. "When you thought of drugs out of suburbs, you thought marijuana. Heroin is out here. And we're seeing a lot of it. The trend was marijuana, then cocaine, and now it's heroin." An upcoming community forum called "Heroin in Our Community" is in the works to educate Chicago parents on the problem by confronting them with what police say is irrefutable evidence of a growing problem in the suburbs. “[Heroin addicts] have similar stories and pathways to how they got where they are,” says Chris Gleason, director of a mental health and substance abuse treatment center in McHenry County, Illinois. “And almost all of them say they started with prescription drugs and then ended up on heroin.”

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.