According to numbers released by the Delray Beach Police Department on Tuesday, if you did heroin in the beachside town last month and are still alive, consider yourself lucky.
Delray Beach cops say 17 people overdosed and three people died while chasing the dragon in May. Those numbers account for the vast majority of overdoses and deaths since the year began. Since the start of 2015, the city has seen 26 overdoses and four deaths.
Despite those startling numbers, little is known about why or how heroin has caused these tragic numbers. Delray PD Public Information Officer Jeffrey Messer tells New Times that they're still waiting for the toxicology results of the three apparent overdoses.
“Although it was obvious that heroin was the cause, we must wait for final tox,” Messer says.
What the police can tell us about the three deaths is that they are all white males, ages 22, 38, and 28.
“One was homeless, one was from North Carolina, and one was a Delray resident,” explained Messer.
No other information has been released about the three men who police assume have died from heroin overdoses, including whether any of them were sober-house residents.
Although the May spike is stark compared to previous months, cries from Delray Beach authorities about heroin are nothing new. Over the past 18 months, several warnings have been issued by police via news outlets about a supposed increase in heroin usage — and this isn't even the most worrisome.
In February 2014, Delray Beach cops told local media about a spike in heroin-related deaths in 2013: The city saw three in 2012 and then 27 in 2013.
"It's one of those things that when you hear it, you're like, 'Something is wrong,'" former public information officer Sgt. Nicole Guerriero told WPTV.
Nine months later, in November 2014, New Times reported that another heroin warning was sent out.
"We're definitely seeing a heroin epidemic and opiate epidemic," Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University, tells New Times. "It's not that heroin is widespread as much as it's on the rise."
According to a November 10 WPBF report:
The heroin epidemic is very much alive and plaguing Delray Beach. Police said in the first two weeks of 2014, they seized more heroin than in the past 10 years combined. Nationwide, according to a government drug survey, in 2002, 166,000 Americans said they had used heroin. Just a decade later, that number had more than doubled.
"In years past, you couldn't find heroin here," said Delray Beach Sgt. Nicole Guerriero, "Once the pill mills were shutdown, people didn't stop doing drugs because the pills weren't available... they found another drug to do."
The repeated warnings about heroin usage and the increase in deaths is backed up by federal government statistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report earlier this year based on 2013 numbers, the latest numbers available.
The data show a 6% increase in all drug poisoning deaths from 2012, and a 1% increase in deaths involving opioid analgesics over 2012. Deaths involving heroin had the largest upsurge overall, with a 39% increase from 2012, while deaths involving cocaine increased 12%.
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And according to CNN:
In general, drug overdose deaths have been on the rise for the past two decades, but the number of deaths from heroin use is up by 39%.
That means 5,927 people died after using heroin in 2012 and that number jumped to 8,260 deaths in 2013. Those are the latest numbers available.
There has been a lot of talk about heroin, so Delray Beach's situation is hardly unique. But why it's happening has been blamed on everything from crackdowns on pill mills to savvy Mexican drug cartels looking to capitalize off customers for whom legal, prescription painkillers have become too expensive.
What Delray Beach's situation is remains to be seen.