Ellensburg, Washington, is a small city east of the Cascade Mountains known mostly for its farms and rodeos. In the past year, however, its most notable attribute has become its growing heroin problem. According to The Wall Street Journal, the drug appeared in the town two years ago and is attracting younger users. Many in the town were unaware of heroin's hold on area youths until a state trooper's son fatally overdosed on the substance.
"It really shook our community," Norman Redberg, executive director of Kittitas County Alcohol Drug Dependency Service, said to the publication.
In 2008, Redberg said he treated only three heroin addicts. That number has since increased significantly. As of June 30 this year, 27 individuals have entered his facility seeking treatment for heroin abuse. For a town of only 18,000 residents, this is a large percentage.
Data from a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that heroin use has increased by over 50 percent since 2002. The agency attributes this dramatic rise to the law enforcement crackdown of illicit use of prescription painkillers. The limited supply has driven up prices, causing some users to look for a cheaper alternative like heroin.
Most of the heroin found in Ellensburg and similar towns comes from Mexico, where producers have been steadily increasing production in recent years. These small area markets have been flooded with the drug and many of its users told The Wall Street Journal that dealers were aggressively promoting the substance.
According to SAMHSA, many law enforcement and public health officials still think of heroin as an inner-city drug. As such, many small towns do not have the resources or treatment facilities that they need to deal with this issue.