UK & World News

  • 11 August 2014, 10:00

Heroin Addiction Takes Hold In US Suburbs

America is in the grip of a heroin epidemic.

Use of the drug has spread from the inner cities to the suburbs, causing a rapid rise in addiction and deaths.

Warnings of a full blown health crisis are getting louder as addicts swap prescription opiates for heroin - a cheaper and more readily available high.

Maryland's governor says despite efforts to curb fatalities- the problem is getting much worse there.

Brodie Smith, 18, is in his bedroom preparing for his first hit of the day. His grandmother is just outside tending the garden.

He has a loving family and once dreamed of becoming an artist. Now he does not think he will live past 21.

He told Sky News: "It's liquid gold. It's become the most important thing in my life. The only thing that makes me happy anymore - the only thing that makes me better. The only thing that makes me normal."

Sometimes he injects heroin 15 times a day. He steals the money from his grandmother's purse - something which he says he hates himself for. He started using in high school.

"Everybody started doing it (and) now I know 14-year-olds just coming into 10th grade who are putting needles in their arm," he said.

"It's ridiculous - everybody does it. It's just like smoking weed."

Brodie lives near Frederick in rural Maryland, where heroin addiction affects every neighbourhood - from the poorest to the most affluent.

Support groups for grieving families are filling up - heroin-related deaths in Maryland increased by 88% from 2011 to 2013.

At a group in Baltimore County tearful mums, dads, brothers and sisters share stories of the loved ones they lost and their battle with heroin.

There is a recurring theme - none of them ever imagined heroin would play a role in their family.

Things have become so bad that new legislation has been passed allowing parents to be prescribed and trained in the use of Naloxone - a heroin antidote that reverses the effects of an overdose.

Toni Torsch trains them in how to administer the drug - they practise by injecting an orange.

For Toni, the law's passing was bittersweet. It came too late for her son Dan, who died in his bedroom after taking heroin.

She said: "He was tall, good looking, funny - always did his homework - just a good kid.

"When I went in the TV was on real low and I touched him and something just didn't feel right. I just can't even begin to describe the pain of losing him."

Like so many others, Dan's addiction began when he was prescribed powerful painkillers for a sports injury. He became addicted - and heroin became a cheaper alternative.

"I think prescription medication is really the leading cause leading to heroin use. People just don't wake up and say 'yeah - I'm going to use heroin' - it just doesn't happen," Toni said.

Former heroin addict Mike Gimbel is now a drugs expert and counsellor who says young people are dying from heroin faster than ever before.

"It's easier in this country to buy heroin than pain pills now," he said.

"The shift from heroin has been the most dramatic shift of any drug because the drug started in the inner city and now it's in the suburbs."

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