In the last two years, the number of high school students who say they have used prescription drugs to get high has fallen from 8 percent to 3 percent, according to a survey conducted by Patton’s group.
Teenagers can become addicted to prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Patton said, thinking they are not dangerous and then move on to much cheaper heroin.
The epidemic of heroin use has spread across the region with tremendous speed, said Joanne Peterson, founder and executive director of Learn to Cope, a statewide nonprofit that organizes support groups for families who have relatives coping with heroin and other addictions.
The 48-year-old from Raynham started the group nine years ago as her son was fighting his heroin addiction.
When her support groups hear about a rash of overdoses, they tell families to warn their relatives of the risks and keep their Narcan nasal spray handy.
But they face a dilemma when handing out warnings.
Addicts will flock to areas experiencing overdose outbreaks, thinking that signals the arrival of especially potent heroin, she said.
“When you are an addict, your sole purpose in life is seeking your next high and when you find out there is a very potent high, you go looking for it,” she said. “That is the sad fact about it.”
It took Peterson’s son four years before he became clean — but it happened. He has remained sober and is now married, she said.
“It is all about education. People can be very harsh toward addiction, but what they don’t realize is, that is somebody’s son or daughter who tried something without knowing what it was,” she said. “It can happen to anybody’s child today. It’s not because they were a terrible parents.”