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Heroin and the Media

Celebrities In The Spotlight

Heroin thus established its reputation as the ultimate hard drug early on. Other drugs have since been closely watched. The use of hallucinogens such as LSD by young adults sparked anxiety during the 1960s and 1970s. The crack epidemic of the 1980s was seen as one of the most devastating symptoms of inner cities in crisis. The meth epidemic of the early twenty-first century has raised concern about the prevalence of the drug methamphetamine in rural and suburban America.

Although the media have always reported on heroin abuse, availability, and other related points, they have never declared a specific “heroin epidemic” in which it became a social issue. That is not to say that the media have ignored teen heroin use. Many newspapers and other media periodically profile ordinary teens whose lives become derailed by heroin. The annual Monitoring the Future survey examines teens' use and perception of heroin, as well as other drugs. There are regions in which teen heroin use is unusually high, and occasionally a particular school or community will experience a heroin craze.

Coverage of heroin in the media, however, has centered on heroin abuse by celebrities, especially when it contributed to their downfall. During the early years of bebop and jazz, many musicians were linked to heroin. Saxophonist Charlie Parker and singer Billie Holiday both struggled with heroin addiction. As rock ‘n’ roll came into fashion, heroin use became associated with the lifestyle of some rockers. Jim Morrison of the Doors, Janis Joplin, singer Nico of the Velvet Underground, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, punk rocker Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, and many others allegedly struggled with heroin abuse. During the 1990s, the association between heroin and rock music went through another cycle. Many rockers of the grunge movement popularized in Seattle were linked to heroin. Most tragic was the case of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who struggled with heroin addiction before committing suicide.

On June 6, 2006, seventeen-year-old Joseph Krecker was found slumped over in his Jeep Cherokee in Chicago's West Side. The cause of his death was easily determined: Krecker was still clutching a bag of heroin.

Joseph Krecker should have had a bright future in front of him. He was a good athlete and well-liked at school. He had graduated from high school in the spring. But Krecker had a troubled side. He had started using heroin back in January, and in April, he confessed his addiction to his father, a suburban deputy police chief. Krecker checked into rehab.

Krecker's death occurred among a string of heroin-related fatalities and non-lethal overdoses. The cause of the outbreak was a concoction of potent heroin mixed with a prescription opioid drug called fentanyl. Used as a pain-relief medication or an anesthetic, fentanyl is about eighty times more powerful than morphine. Combined with heroin, it greatly increases the potential for overdose.

The drug combination quickly earned the nickname “Get High or Die Trying.” Authorities warned the public about the dangers of the mixture, but the strategy backfired. Addicts swarmed the areas where they thought they might obtain the fentanyl-laced heroin, and the death count continued to rise. Between May and July, there were more than four hundred deaths attributed to the mixture across the Midwest and the East Coast.

More than a century after heroin was first made, it is still destroying lives and causing heartbreak. It has survived numerous attempts to stem its availability and abuse. As the outbreak of heroin-fentanyl deaths demonstrates, drug trends evolve over time. (The source of the mixture is believed to have been a laboratory in Mexico, which was later raided by the Mexican police.) There are many resources that alleviate some aspects of the heroin problem—education, prevention, harm-reduction programs, drug treatment, interdiction, incarceration—but after a century of debate, the only point of agreement on all sides of the issue is that with heroin, there's no easy solution.

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Science EncyclopediaCommon Street DrugsHeroin and the Media - Early Sensationalism, Heroin Chic, Celebrities In The Spotlight