Heroin in our midst: Local arrests confirm findings of a national study

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Heroin is a mainstream problem.

A Washington University School of Medicine researcher said it this week when a study of users was published in JAMA Psychiatry, and U.S. Attorney David Hickton confirmed it a day later when he announced that a prolific heroin ring had been thriving throughout Western Pennsylvania.

The caricature of an urban junkie is simply that. According to the JAMA study, which tracked data from 2,800 heroin users, three-quarters of them live in suburban and rural areas, 90 percent are white, and they are an increasingly older group. Locally, prosecutors say drug traffickers operated brazenly in the Monroeville business district and distributed their deadly product from Pittsburgh to as far east as Armstrong and Cambria counties.

The 44 individuals indicted as part of the gang came from all over the region — Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Export, Plum, Greensburg and more. They are accused of using teenagers to help deliver to their customers, who no doubt matched the dealers in their demographic mix.

The study and the arrests confirm the same key fact: The scourge of heroin addiction touches all parts of our community and likely counts friends, relatives and acquaintances among its victims.

The JAMA study’s author proposed better mental health care to help remedy the abuse. Enforcement of the sort that Mr. Hickton’s office undertook also is an important tool. So, too, is public awareness because a problem denied cannot be solved.

Heroin use is not some problem out on the periphery; it is in our midst and it cannot be ignored.

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