Heroin deaths on the rise: 'It's here, it's big, it's hitting young adults'

SEATTLE -- More and more young people are dying of heroin overdoses in King County, and the alarming trend has experts working overtime to save lives.

A recent University of Washington drug trend study shows heroin deaths have doubled since 2009 in users ages 18 to 29, up from 49 deaths to 99 deaths.

"It's here, it's big, it's hitting young adults, " said researcher Dr. Caleb Banta-Green.

Heroin is the number one drug killer of young adults in King County.

"They're kind of newer to using, their bodies haven't adapted to it and they're just dying. The heroin is killing them," said Banta-Green, a senior research scientist at UW's Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute.

Banta-Green authored the study and has been following an up-tick in heroin use ever since opiates, such as Oxycontin, got too expensive or the drug formula was changed to make it harder to snort.

"If you can't get opiates, it doesn't fix opiate addiction, it just means you switch to another opiate that's cheaper and available, and that's heroin," said Banta-Green.

The Washington Recovery Help Line is a nonprofit statewide phone bank that's open 24/7 every day of the year.

"It's very alarming. This is a huge red flag, this is really concerning and should be on the minds of everyone," said Robyn Smith, who manages the recovery line at the Crisis Clinic, where operators field heroin calls daily.

Smith knows heroin addiction doesn't have to be a death sentence.

"When people call here, we can connect them to those resources: detox, outpatient treatment ,there are a lot of options for people," said Smith.

There are also medication-assisted treatments, such as methadone for heroin addicts. Banta-Green says people need to remember the state's 4-year old Good Samaritan Law, which ensures an addict overdosing or a friend trying to help that addict can call for help, without fear of prosecution for drug possession.

"As the former drug czar, our former police chief said you can't recover from addiction if you're dead," said Banta- Green.

He says there's also an antidote for heroin addicts who have overdosed called Narcan that is often used in a nasal spray form.

The institute's website offers information on how to identify a drug overdosed patient.