Heroin-related arrests are up dramatically, particularly among younger users, Newport Beach police said Wednesday.
Those arrested on suspicion of selling and possessing heroin are in their late teens and 20s, a demographic that in the past was not typically associated with the drug.
Cheap black tar heroin distributed by Mexican street gangs is increasingly being used at high school parties in Newport, police said, adding that some youngsters first get a taste for opiates from prescription pills.
"In speaking with many of these young heroin users, it seems they are being first exposed to heroin by friends who use the drug or while they are at social gatherings," said Newport Beach police Det. Elijah Hayward. "Some of the people we have talked to were first introduced to the drug when they were 14 or 15 years old."
In the past three months, police have made 13 arrests for heroin sales and 19 for heroin possession. Another 18 arrests were made in the same time frame for narcotic prescription pills. Some of those arrested in the recent busts are as young as 17.
Last year during the same time period, police made two arrests for heroin possession, two for sales and 12 for possession of narcotic pills.
In 2009, during the same time frame, heroin-related arrests were a fraction of what they were this year with four people being arrested for heroin possession, four for heroin sales and 13 for possession of narcotic pills.
Teens and young adults typically smoke or snort the drug, rather than inject it, police said.
Evidence of opiate use can come in the form of a burned pen tube, aluminum foil or straws, as well as burned spoons, hypodermic needles and torn plastic covered in a brown, tar-like residue.
Last year, authorities told the Daily Pilot that the use of black tar heroin among young adults was on the rise because of the increasing cost of prescription opiates, like OxyContin.
The Los Angeles Times recently pointed to an increase prescription overdoses for drug deaths outnumbering those from traffic fatalities.