Heroin has become the deadly crest of a wave of addictive drug use in communities around the country.
With addicts desperate for a cheaper high than prescription drugs or seeking a more powerful fix, experts are seeing heroin addiction treatment admissions, overdoses and fatalities rising in nearly every region, including areas where the drug has seldom been seen before.
In Ohio, state officials say drug overdoses from heroin increased 25 percent between 2008 and 2009, and are continuing to rise.
In Cowlitz County, Wash., an unusually pure shipment of heroin killed seven people in just five days during April.
In St. Louis city and county, officials report heroin killed 310 people in the past two years alone.
Data from death certificates compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2009, the most recent year available, showed heroin killed nearly 3,500 Americans, almost double the number that perished a decade ago.
Scripps Howard News Service analyzed those statistics and found heroin is a multi-generational threat, but becoming proportionately more deadly among those under 30.
Addiction experts and law enforcement officials say young people may be at particular risk as they move from the relatively certain effects of prescription painkillers to a street drug notorious for ebbs and spikes in potency.
A third of the 3,358 deaths recorded in 2009 occurred among people under the age of 30, including 93 deaths among teens. The bulk of the deaths — 2,178– clustered among people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
In 2001 heroin killed 1,901 people. Twenty-two percent were under 30, including 45 teens.
Experts say there is no typical heroin user. They come from rich and poor neighborhoods, all levels of education, and can be young, middle-aged or old.