Dostal said the increase appears to be an unintended consequence of a law passed by the state legislature, effective Aug. 27, 2013. The law, called the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing — Prescription Monitoring System, or I-STOP/PMP, was written to address the overprescription of legal controlled substance painkillers, she said said. It includes information that allows doctors to evaluate their patients’ treatment with controlled substances and determine whether there may be abuse or non-medical use.
However, she said, the law has been so effective that addicts are forced to make difficult choices. They can go through withdrawal and get sick, go into recovery, or try to find drugs on the street, she said, and if they take the latter path, they might find that heroin is cheaper than buying pills.
Heroin can be smoked, snorted, ingested or injected. But like other opiates, heroin over time requires more to have the same effect.
Dostal said she will be at the forum, and will probably talk about the importance of raising awareness in the community and working hard at prevention.
Normally, that means creating an environment where people don’t use the drug. But the problem has gotten so big, so quickly, “we are trying to prevent people from dying” and help get them into recovery, she said.
Justin Thalheimer, the program manager at Otsego County Addiction Recovery Services, also is scheduled to attend the forum. The growing problem with heroin use can be seen in the change in clientele his agency serves, he said. Historically, his agency has had about 125 to 140 active clients.
From Feb. 1 to April 15, 2013, about 26 percent of the patients the agency saw had problems with heroin. But for the same period this year, more than 38 percent were affected by the drug. In comparison, those dealing with alcohol abuse remained relatively stable at about 38 percent, Thalheimer said.