A new generation is getting hooked on heroin. The drug has made a dramatic comeback in the past few years.
Part of that experts warn is fueled by abusers turning to heroin instead of hard to get prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Opana. Those drugs are not much different than heroin. They are all opiates or opioids, except heroin is easier and cheaper to get.
"I see deaths every week across the country that I read about," said Greg Lannes who lost his daughter to a heroin overdose five years ago.
Alicia Lannes' death led to the conviction of 15 people as part of a Fairfax County heroin ring that supplied the deadly dose. Today, the 19-year-old's father is still fighting to save others from the drug that is now more popular than ever. Sometimes he says "a family member reaches out to me and tells me about the struggle they're going through and the fear they're going to lose their child to this."
According to an annual survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people who reported using heroin in the past year rose from 373,000 in 2007 to 620,000 in 2011 -- a 66 percent jump.
The reason is two-fold: a crackdown on prescription painkillers and economics.
The pills are harder to get and come in new formulas that make them more difficult to snort. Heroin on the other hand sells for as little as $10 compared to $40 a pill for prescription painkillers.
"Somebody who was abusing a prescription opiate who can no longer abuse it or afford it switches to heroin because there isn't a big difference between dirty street heroin and pure pharmaceutical opiates," said Steve Pasierb, CEO for Partnership at Drugfree.org.
The increase in heroin abuse is reflected in the number of overdose deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 3,094 overdose deaths in 2010 compared to 1,901 in 2001.
At Phoenix House, a substance abuse treatment center in
Arlington, it is seeing the same trend. Admissions for opiates increased six percent in the past three years with more coming from rural areas. The rise of heroin, clinical supervisor and drug counselor Bill Prasad warns, is as dangerous as Russian roulette.
"They don't know how the drug was cut, they don't know the purity of the drugs, so it is extremely dangerous, and in many cases, it results in an overdose," said Prasad.
The number of people who reported using heroin in the past year in Maryland, Virginia and the District was unavailable because the sample size was too small to provide accurate statistics. However the survey shows lifetime heroin use failed to decline much in the states and D.C. from 2006 to 2011.
Virginia's remained the same at 1.7 percent. Maryland's went from 3.4 percent to 3.1 percent and the District nudged up from 2.8 percent to 2.9 percent.
After losing his daughter, Lannes believes people need to break the silence about this killer drug.
"I don't want her death to go in vain," he said. "What we have in our communities with these drugs is dangerous and it's going to continue to kill others."
A new Virginia law inspired by Alicia Lannes' death took effect in March. Anytime a minor overdoses from drugs or alcohol and is discharged, hospitals must provide parents with information about follow-up treatment and substance abuse services. It is called "Alicia's compass.”