“I’ve been working at this for 29 years,” Mr. Duncan says. “I’ve seen people addicted to many things, and heroin is always the hardest to deal with.”
Heroin’s rising popularity reflects what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year described as an “epidemic” of overdoses from prescription drugs, especially painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Users often switch from painkillers to heroin because it’s cheaper and more readily available, experts say. A tenth of a gram, enough for two or three uses, sells for as little as $20. Moreover, heroin has become increasingly available in refined forms that can be sniffed or snorted. Many young people are introduced to heroin in a powder form but eventually switch to injections.
William Patrianakos is one of them. Mr. Patrianakos, who grew up in Lockport, just outside Chicago, tells people that “if there was a graduating class of first addicts to heroin around here, I was one of them.” He started by taking OxyContin pills he got from a girlfriend, and he switched to heroin when he no longer could get the pills. He had struggled with depression, he says, an drugs made him happy.
To finance the addiction, Patrianakos stole from his family, borrowed from friends, and taught himself to counterfeit $100 bills. Like many addicts, he entered treatment programs several times, only to return to heroin. He finally was arrested for counterfeiting and spent a year in a court-mandated drug program. Even then he relapsed for three months before, he says, he finally quit heroin for good.