'Heroin Tsunami' to only be combated with more resources, overdose legislation

'Heroin Tsunami' (KBOI)

Nearly 50,000 people died from heroin and painkillers in 2013 and, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, it's now the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States.

More people now die of drug overdoses than in car crashes within the United States, and there's one particular drug that's surging in popularity...and unfortunately, it's right here in our own backyard.

"Law enforcement has its challenges right now," said Kieran Donahue, the Canyon County sheriff. "It's really an avalanche... it's really a huge avalanche coming at us in every direction."

In the last three years, the number of heroin arrests in Boise have tripled. The drug, also known as "smack", "H" or "junk" comes in waves.

"Actually in the 90s, heroin was actually the bigger drug." said Benjamin Seymore, the founder of Northpoint Recovery in Boise. "Then you know the prescriptions, the potency of these prescriptions really started to surpass that of heroin."

Seymore says there's a huge correlation between prescription painkillers and heroin. Many addicts start in their own homes.

"I've always said, you know, parents can be their kids own drug dealers... it's a scary epidemic but it's happening everyday."

As prescription regulations tightened on doctors, a growing number of people turned to heroin to ease their pain or to feed their addiction.

"Opioids and alcohol are our two most consistent drugs of abuse," Seymore said. "I would say 40 percent of our patients are dependent on opioids."

In 2014, at least 12 Idahoans died from overdoses.

The federal government has identified the Treasure Valley as as a high-trafficking area, in part because dealers make their runs on I-84.

"We need more resources, we need more people in the streets because the problem has far outgrown our ability to react to it." Donahue said.

Idaho's Office of Drug Policy gets about $1.5 million a year to combat all drug abuse in the state, some of that money was used to create a software program that tracks doctors' prescriptions for painkillers.

"If a prescriber will go on and check that system, they can check to see if that patient has already received a prescription," said Elisha Figueroa, director for the office. "It updates about every 24 hours, so it's a pretty quickly-updating system."

Figueroa's office, also, worked closely with lawmakers to pass a bill that will allow people to buy an overdose reversal medication without a doctor's prescription.

"It also allows the prescription to be not just for person that might be in danger of overdosing, but for friends and family member of that person as well," Figueroa said. "Normally we can't prescribe a medication for someone else to have to use on another person, but in this instance we can."

Seymore and sheriff Donahue says this is a step toward saving lives, but they don't believe it will keep folks from using painkillers illegally.

"I would submit that we absolutely need more treatment centers," Donahue said. "Unfortunately, we need a lot of them because we have a huge addiction problem."

As the situation progresses and technology and funds become available, drug counselors, law enforcement officials and legislators constantly look for new ways to ultimately halt the heroin tsunami.