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Heroin is still a scourge, but now in prosperous suburbs [Editorial]

Where do you get heroin? Go to a big city ghetto, find a dark alley, do the special knock on a steel door and ask for Omar. Slide your money under the door and packets of heroin slide back.

That scenario, however, is being replaced by another. The place to score smack is now more likely the parking lot of a franchise sports bar at a mall, or a boutique nail salon or a quiet stairwell in your kid's high school.

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Keep this in mind with the announcement that the Howard County Department of Corrections has been awarded nearly $50,000 in state funds to fight heroin addiction. The county has recently seen an increase in heroin use and overdoses, primarily among white men and women between the ages of 18 and 30, according to the office of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman.

The $49,706 grant to fight heroin addiction in Howard County comes from the Governor's Office of Crime, Control and Prevention and was among more than $600,000 in awards announced last week for Medically Assisted Treatment programs and other re-entry programs statewide.

Howard, one of the most prosperous counties in the nation, might seem to be immune to a scourge that is associated with blight and urban poverty, as seen in the TV mini-series "The Wire." But a growing trend here is clear. Last year, the county recorded 18 non-fatal overdoses. So far this year, the number is 14. As to heroin-related deaths in Howard, the count is five from 2013, eight in 2014 and seven so far this year.

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Addiction recovery professionals agree that heroin is now in all socioeconomic strata. One reason is a crackdown on misuse of prescription opiods, which has driven many to heroin, a cheaper alternative.

Howard County tracks with national trends. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found heroin deaths nationwide almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2013. Fifteen years ago, blacks had the highest rate of heroin overdoses, but by 2013 it was whites with the highest rate.

The cynical might draw conclusions about smack being an old plague in the minority ghettos, but alarm bells are now going off after it has begun to vex white suburbia. With that, at least, comes new approaches based on prevention, education and treatment instead of incarceration.

The state grant will fund re-entry mediation, prevention programs, computer skills training for inmates and even a treatment program that includes acupuncture. The best way to win battles in the war on heroin and other drugs is to reduce demand. With this grant, Howard takes another step in that direction.

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