Floridians Are Mixing Heroin With Other Drugs and It's Killing Them
When Karina moved to Miami Beach from Eastern Europe in 2007, she used no nicotine, no alcohol, no drugs, nothing. Although she'd had a problem in her midteens with booze and MDMA, the 22-year-old was determined to begin her new life in America clean and sober.
photo from MorgueFile via Wikimedia Commons
Soon after she arrived, however, she fell in with a crowd of hard-partying Russians and began drinking again. Before long, she started snorting cocaine to wake herself up when she drank too much vodka. But it was only when she met a group of local gay men who hung out at clubs that her drug use really took off.
Now Karina (not her real name) was doing not only coke but also molly, GHB, and the animal tranquilizer ketamine. Strangely, when she tried crystal meth for the first time, she fell asleep on the toilet and missed work. She was often seen on the dance floor wearing a fanny pack -- which she dubbed "the crack pack" -- containing not just drugs but also sugar packets, Pedialyte strips, and a banana that helped her ease the inevitable crash. Her friends called her "Dyson," after the vacuum cleaner, because of her ability to suck up large amounts of cocaine. Still, she remained functional -- she held down a demanding day job as a computer programmer that often involved 12- to 14-hour shifts. And she never took drugs at work.
But then a couple of her comrades became addicted, and others lost their jobs. She found that the older she got, the longer it took to recover from drug binges. Today she restricts herself to alcohol and cocaine, but, she admits, even that's difficult, especially given the environment. "It's hard not to take drugs living in South Beach," she says in heavily accented English. "Different types of drugs are everywhere, and people share them all the time. This is not a town where it's easy to be straight-edged."
So-called polydrug use -- mixing various street drugs and/or prescription drugs either sequentially or simultaneously -- will probably be in evidence this week as Winter Music Conference and then Ultra Music Festival hit Miami. Some of the estimated 300,000 people expected to attend the events might consume potentially dangerous drug cocktails while ignorant of the potential pitfalls. Just how dangerous was recently underscored by the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was discovered last month on the bathroom floor of his Greenwich Village townhouse with a needle stuck in his arm. What was initially reported as a suspected fatal heroin overdose turned out be a polydrug death involving not only heroin but also cocaine, amphetamine, and prescription tranquilizers. A combo of heroin and alcohol is bad enough. That's what killed Glee star Cory Monteith, who was found surrounded by empty champagne bottles and drug wrappers in a Vancouver hotel room last July. Combining heroin and cocaine -- a "speedball" -- is even worse. That's what killed comedian John Belushi. But two stimulants piled on top of two depressants? Reason columnist Jacob Sullum speculates the stimulants might have masked the effects of the depressants, causing Hoffman to take more heroin than usual.
Celebrities and electronic-music fans aren't the only ones consuming dangerous drug cocktails. Increasingly, ordinary consumers are turning to perilous polydrug use. In Florida, there were 117 heroin-related deaths in 2012 (the last year for which numbers are available), only one of which was heroin on its own, a single case in Sanford, according to the state medical examiner's office.
And it's not just heroin. In Miami, there wasn't a single cocaine-related death that didn't involve other substances. The most common ingredient found locally in fatal drug mixes is the prescription tranquilizer benzodiazepine (followed by alcohol, oxycodone, and cocaine), not surprising perhaps because in recent years Florida has stood at the epicenter of a massive wave of prescription drug abuse that only now is subsiding.