Heroin Shortages Drive Deadly Alternatives

English: Pre-war Bayer heroin bottle, original...
English: Pre-war Bayer heroin bottle, originally containing 5 grams of Heroin substance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Though the federal government is participating in marketing buprenorphine as having low addiction potential, buprenorphine is being identified as a growing problem overseas:


Responses to the drought varied by country, with drug users in each developing their own preferences for heroin alternatives, according to reports from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA.)  In Norway, users turned to buprenorphine, a semi-synthetic often used to treat heroin addiction, but intoxicating and addictive in higher doses.  In Hungary, cathinones gained popularity. That substance – an ingredient in the drug mixes known as “bath salts” in the U.S. – is part stimulant, part opioid. Slovakia, too, went for uppers – there, methamphetamine use surged. In Bulgaria, a mysterious substance known as “white heroin” cropped up; reports vary regarding its makeup.

Buprenorphine also swept the country of Georgia, which previously never had much of a heroin problem.

Lasha – whose name has been changed to protect his identity – first tried the drug when he was 15, on the 2007 Georgian New Year. He easily scored the drug through older acquaintances  he had met the day before, and his new friends crushed up a tablet of Subutex, a name brand of buprenorphine, and injected him with it.

Lasha’s first high was a nightmare. “Every five minutes I got sick and it didn’t stop until the morning. I had nothing in my stomach and some strange liquid was coming out,” he said. “I thought I would die.”

But two days later, he did it again. ”The same thing happened,” Lasha said. ”I was going crazy… I wanted to feel the real pleasure that was felt by my friends. I wanted some more.” So a week later, Lasha injected the drug a third time.

”I felt it at last. The warmth came from my feet up to my head,” he said. “I was God. I was cool. I could do everything possible and impossible.” By the time the high wore off, Lasha was hooked. ”It finished and again I felt like a nobody,” he said. ”I immediately missed that feeling and wanted to inject once more…I became the classic junkie.”

Thousands of users befell the same fate in Georgia, where a third of the drug users who now seek treatment are addicted to synthetic opioids. Georgian drugs reforms in 2007 cracked down on traditional narcotics but did nothing to stem the misuse of perscription drugs. “It was effective for catching drug dealers, but drug users found an alternative way — artificial drugs,” explained Georgian drug counselor and anthropologist Tamaz Mchedlidze.