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Killers and pain: Painkiller law sends users to heroin

They started turning up in emergency rooms early last November. One after another and then another. By the time the torrent subsided in February, some 280 people had overdosed in Dutchess County from what many believed was heroin but was often street drugs laced with an exponentially stronger narcotic called fentanyl.

The overdoses and deaths are part of a longer-term resurgence of heroin, a street drug that has become plentiful, is cheap, and was, in this case, tainted. But as the dust settled and the rash of patients in cardiac and respiratory distress slowed — it most certainly has not stopped — something else became painfully clear.

This particular run on drugs was not driven just by some faraway drug lord hawking a crop of potent poppies. However inadvertently, it was abetted by a law, passed 174-0 by the New York State Legislature, that last August stanched the supply of pain medications to which thousands of New Yorkers were and are addicted.

Read the full story in the Poughkeepsie Journal here.

Elected officials, law enforcement officers and others proclaim there’s a heroin “epidemic” sweeping the country, and it’s taking hold in rural and suburban communities once considered unlikely places to find illicit drugs.

But nobody knows how many people have died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 3,036 people died in 2010 from heroin overdoses, but due to problems with how death investigations are conducted and how those deaths are documented, the CDC estimates that its tally is at least 25 percent short, possibly more.

Read the full story from Digital First Media, published on The Times Herald's website, here.

"A death isn’t officially ruled an overdose until the state medical examiner’s office says so, usually after an autopsy and tests to confirm the presence of drugs in the person’s body. And getting those results can take months or even years, a Patriot Ledger review of death certificates on file in Quincy, Weymouth and Braintree has found. And that can make it difficult for law enforcement officials and organizations looking to combat the growing problem of opiate abuse to track its toll."

Read the Patriot Ledger's story here.

Today, the recovering addict climbs into a taxi cab at 5 a.m. every weekday for a 60-mile drive to Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, where he receives methadone treatment. And that came only after a two-month delay on the program’s waiting list, which is now often nine months or longer.

Across the Southern Tier, getting hooked on heroin is easy. Getting unhooked — in itself an onerous regimen — can be impossible because of the shortage of medication-assisted treatment programs.

Several hundred Iowans have died in recent years from overdoses involving prescription painkillers. The U.S. has seen a surge of such deaths in the past decade as sales of prescription painkillers have exploded.

The issue of painkiller abuse has come into sharp focus in Iowa recently with the filing of criminal charges against several medical professionals.

Trinity is part of a heartbreaking surge in babies born dependent on drugs because of their mothers’ addictions — which continues to escalate unabated despite Kentucky’s crackdown on prescription-drug abuse.

The state has seen hospitalizations for drug-dependent newborns soar nearly 30 fold in a little more than a decade — from 28 in 2000 to 824 in 2012, according to a recent drug report from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. Preliminary figures suggest that number will surpass 900 in 2013, according to state officials.

State judges are routinely rejecting guidelines that are supposed to make drug sentencing uniform and equitable statewide, according to a Star Tribune analysis of more than 21,000 drug convictions in Minnesota from 2007 to 2012. The difference between getting prison or probation for the same drug crime often comes down to which county offenders live in, or which judge does the sentencing. In the 8th Judicial District in western Minnesota, offenders convicted of the most serious drug crimes face a 77 percent chance of getting the full prison sentence. In Hennepin County, only 27 percent get the toughest penalty.

Craig Russell Wishnick is one of 238 residents of Dutchess and Ulster counties to die by suicide in the five years ending in 2011, 73 more than in the five years ending in 2003, according to a Poughkeepsie Journal analysis of death certificates over a 13-year period. That is an increase in harder-hit Dutchess of 62 percent and the first hike in the county rate after a quarter-century of steady and solid decline.

Heroin, long a scourge of inner cities, has infiltrated suburbia and rural towns and is claiming the lives of an increasingly younger, middle-class and white male clientele at an alarming rate.

But new statistics compiled for the Democrat and Chronicle by the office, which investigates suspected drug-related deaths across the region, show that more often than not the victims resided outside the city of Rochester.

The latest installment in USA TODAY’s ongoing “Supplement Shell Game” investigation published today finds that the key author of a safety study of the controversial sports supplement Craze is a doctor who has been disciplined in two states for issues relating to fraudulent billing practices and other misrepresentations. Now the editor of the peer reviewed journal that published the study says he has “serious concerns” about the research after being contacted by scientists and USA TODAY.

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