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Heroin Use, Deaths On The Rise In Middle Class America

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CBS4's Jennifer Brice talks with Chris Lazarus whose son died of a heroin overdose. (Credit: CBS)

CBS4′s Jennifer Brice talks with Chris Lazarus whose son died of a heroin overdose. (Credit: CBS)

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HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo (CBS4) – Colorado ranks second in the nation for prescription pill abuse. Experts say as prescription pills get harder to access, people turn to cheaper, more accessible heroin.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heroin use in America is up 75 percent between 2007 and 2011. Deaths and overdoses are also on the rise. Many heroin addicts start on prescription pain killers prescribed for minor injuries. When they run out of their prescription, they often turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get. One Oxycontin pill can cost up to $80 and may only last a few hours whereas $100 worth of heroin can last several days.

“All my life, I heard heroin addict and though that’s the lowest of the low. I stepped right into it without looking back,” said Cynthia Scudo, a mother of 8 and a recovering heroin addict.

Scudo’s heroin use started after a hip injury in her 40s. She was prescribed Oxycontin for the pain but then graduated to heroin.

“Within the first two-months of using Oxycontin I knew I would not be able to stop,” Scudo told CBS4. “There was no way I would make it to the end of the month as prescribed, so I reached out to what was easy to get, cheap and convenient … and that was heroin.”

For 9 years, she crushed, snorted, and smoked heroin, but drew the line at using a needle.

“Something inside me just would not let me cross that line because that would make me a real heroin addict,” Scudo explained.

“You’re a mom of eight, you’re working, you don’t look like what people think is a typical heroin addict,” CBS4’s Jennifer Brice said in an interview with Scudo.

“I worked really hard to make sure I didn’t look that way. On the inside, I didn’t feel anything. I was completely empty,” Scudo responded.

Scudo has been clean for two years. She is sharing her story of addiction because she wants people to know that heroin addiction can happen to anyone. Osvaldo Cabral is an addiction counselor at CeDAR Center for Addiction and has noticed an explosion in heroin use a few years ago when the maker of Oxycontin reformulated its pills.

“They put a substance in there that when you try to break down the pill, it gels so it’s hard to shoot up, smoke and breakdown,” Cabral told CBS4.

The Denver Coroner’s office reports that since 2004, heroin related deaths jumped from 4 percent to almost 28 percent. In 2012, heroin killed more people than any other substance in Denver. So far this year, the Arapahoe County Coroner reports 11 heroin related deaths up from 8 in 2012.

Matt Lazarus is among the heroin death statistics. Lazarus excelled in school, and he got an academic achievement award by President George W. Bush.

“He was brilliant,” said Chris Lazarus, Matt’s mom. “He was a cookie cutter perfect little kid.”

The Douglas County stay-at-home mom of two boys did everything right. When Matt’s friend brought his concerns of heroin use to her, she confronted Matt immediately and got him into a rehabilitation program. Her son was clean about six weeks, then one morning she found him dead in his room.

“He was in his chair. He looked like he had fallen asleep,” Lazarus recounted. “All of a sudden it was just this wave of panic and I turned around and he was cold.”

Three months from the first time Matt used heroin, he died. He was 18. Chris Lazarus still struggles with why her son ever even tried heroin.

“Why do you do it?” Lazarus said she asked her son. “He said, ‘I like it.’ ”

Lazarus started a foundation called EPIC to raise awareness about heroin. She says when she talks to parents whose kids are using they often respond by saying, “Not my child.”

- Written for CBSDenver.com by Special Projects Producer Libby Smith

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