Heroin is cheap. It’s plentiful. And, it’s deadly.

In follow up to the recent staggering overdose count in Washington County, the Washington Post compared the cost of a single stamp bag to a pack of cigarettes, noting how a flooded market keeps heroin costs low.

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, a pack of cigarettes is slightly less expensive (at somewhere between $6 and $7). Heroin is $8, Rick Gluth, supervising detective in Washington County told the Post.

Sixteen residents there overdosed within 24 hours earlier this month. In a two-day period, the total was 25. Three overdoses were fatal.

In both Baltimore and New York City, heroin is indeed cheaper than a pack of cigarettes, the Post said, citing a fairly informal cigarette cost survey by The Awl.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Joseph Moses told the Post that drug prices can vary, but bountiful supplies from Mexico mean it will be available and far cheaper than painkillers that many use before turning to heroin.

According to the Post:

[I]n the last few years price has largely been determined by concerted action on the part of Mexican drug cartels, which previously controlled a smaller part of the U.S. heroin market, generally in the west, Moses said. Knowing that opiate pills such as Oxycontin have become too expensive on the street, the cartels did two things: they dramatically increased production and they developed networks to move it east of the Mississippi, he said.

Attempts by the DEA to seize more heroin coming from Mexico has not raised the cost, Moses told the Post.

Painkillers, which are often legally prescribed for legitimate pain, can now be difficult to find since the government began a crackdown on inappropriate distribution by doctors. But addictions didn’t disappear, and many users have simply shifted their habit to the drug that’s available.

Meanwhile, the overdose antidote Naloxone can keep a drug user from dying if administered quickly enough. But many barriers, including high cost, mean drug users and their families often don’t have access when needed.

While the drug has existed for decades, it wasn’t until late last year that the state legislature took action to make Naloxone easier to find.

Allegheny County has a standing order for Naloxone, meaning it is available to anyone who wants it. As the Pittsburgh City Paper reported last week, only 14 pharmacies are participating.

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.

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