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Heroin use, which already has been a problem in northern and central Kentucky, has been spreading to the southern and eastern parts of the state, The Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

Dan Smoot, CEO of the regional anti-drug initiative Operation UNITE, told the newspaper heroin’s spread throughout Kentucky was inevitable. “We knew it was coming. We just didn’t know when it would hit,” he said.

Heroin use is growing around the country as prescription painkillers become more difficult to obtain and abuse. The trend is increasingly being seen in the suburbs.

Heroin is popular in large part because it is cheap. While an 80-milligram OxyContin costs between $60 to $100 a pill on the black market, heroin costs $45 to $60 for a multiple-dose supply. OxyContin abuse has also been declining because the drug has been reformulated so it is more difficult to crush and snort.

According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people who were past-year heroin users in 2011 (620,000) was higher than the number in 2007 (373,000).

Paul Hays, Law Enforcement Director for Operation UNITE, says that the uncertainty about what heroin users are actually getting makes the drug especially dangerous. “You don’t know the purity of the heroin,” he said in a news release. “Dealers will often ‘cut’ the drug with other substances in order to boost their profits. There’s no way the public knows what they’re shooting up.”

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