For over thirty years, I worked undercover on the streets of Baltimore. My work took me through many different parts of the community, and through my experience I have seen firsthand the tragedies of substance abuse and drug addiction.

It seemed, around thirty years ago, that heroin was a problem that only affected inner cities. When I worked in Baltimore, the purity of heroin was around 7%, which meant that it was typically cut by other substances. For it to be effective, it was mostly injected. Even at this point, fighting heroin distribution from its source in South Eastern Asia was a priority for the Federal Government.

History has repeated itself. Due to a number of issues including prescription painkiller abuse and new avenues of distribution, heroin has once again become a national threat. The same pattern of abuse that I saw on the streets of Baltimore, I now see increased by an order of magnitude in the area around Pittsburgh.

Today, the heroin that reaches the streets is around 80-90% pure. It can now be ingested, snorted, smoked—any way you ingest it, addiction rates are astronomical. Among those who use heroin, the stories of fatalities due to heroin use are seen as a “guarantee of quality” for the drug. In addition, according to the DEA’s [recently released reports on addiction and substance abuse rates in Pennsylvania,] heroin is no longer exclusively an inner-city problem—rates are equally high in the suburbs and rural areas.

Heroin is no longer an issue that we can ignore. Deaths due to heroin overdose in Pennsylvania are at an all-time high. Heroin trafficking is no longer a distant problem—now, most heroin comes directly from the Colombian and Mexican cartels.

There is no easy solution to this epidemic. We must continue to step-up enforcement. We must educate against the effects and dangers of heroin and prescription opiate addictions. Finally, we have to continue to tread addiction as the medical problem that it is. If we as a nation band together, we can solve the heroin problem.

Larry Forletta