'This Week': Heroin Crisis

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Seth Mnookin, and Dr. Richard Besser on the hidden heroin crisis.
3:00 | 02/09/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Heroin Crisis
Family and friends gathering for Philip Seymour Hoffman's funeral Friday. The actor's sudden death last week turning a spotlight on what one governor has called a full-blown heroin crisis. Our experts weigh in shortly, first Dr. Richard Besser. Reporter: An Oscar winner dead with a syringe in his arm after 23 years of sobriety. It says I'm not invincible even though I'm clean and sober for ten years. Once a college student trying to score heroin on the Philadelphia streets -- This is a hot, hot corner here. Jeff is now a social worker helping others get clean. There's needles everywhere. The ground is carpeted with used syringes. There's heroin bags. Envelopes like it comes packaged in philly. A brand stamp. Reporter: Between 2007 and 2012, the number of heroin users just about doubled to heroin, a narcotic, in effect rewires the brain suppressing all other instincts. Slowing down the nervous system. And too high a dose -- The brain doesn't remember to breathe. So they can stop breathing. And that's actually the most common cause of death. Reporter: In 2011, there were more than 250,000 E.R. Visits related to heroin use. And there's a new path into addiction, four out of five turned to heroin after starting on prescription pain pills like oxycontin. It's about four time more expensive than heroin. Reporter: So that progression from pills to oxycontin to heroin, that's not unusual? Absolutely not unusual. Reporter: Cheap, coming mostly from Mexico, it's spread beyond city slums. Governor peter has seen Vermont's heroin deaths double in the last year. What started as a prescription drug addiction problem in Vermont has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis. Reporter: You can buy heroin on the streets of New York for less than a six pack of beer. It used to be that bags of heroin were called dime bags. They would cost $10. But now dime bags going for $6, $7. Reporter: $6 for heroin. Sure. Reporter: Last week, a victory for the Dea and the new York special prosecutor, dismantling a heroin mill in the bronx and seizing more than $8 million worth of drugs. This is one of 13 kilos of heroin. Each packed in chili powder to avoid detection from drug-sniffing dogs. One brick holds about 30,000 doses. What I have seen is if there's a big supply, they are going to use them. We have seen it with heroin and prescription pills. Reporter: In America, nearly 24 million people are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Yet only one in ten will choose treatment. What could she have done to get you into recovery? At that point there was nothing she could do. Reporter: Nothing. I wanted to use. I was 19. I wanted to get high. That's what I wanted to do. Let's dig in with our experts. Rich is here with the Vermont governor and Seth, a journalist who's battled heroin addiction and written powerfully about it. I want to start with you, Seth. We look at the images of rich down on the railroad tracks, with syringes. It's not the image I would get of you. You had a perfectly wonderful upbringing, you went to Harvard. Tell us how you make that leap? How do you decide to use heroin? The best way to describe it, it happened slowly and then all at once. By the time I started using heroin, I had been a daily drug user on and off since I was 15 or 16. Marijuana? Marijuana, alcohol, anything I could get my hands on. So with heroin, it was an issue of availability. I was living in New York, and one Sunday morning it seemed like a good thing to do. And -- Because you thought it was cool? Because you -- I think for me, a big thing was that I knew that I was addicted to drugs. It didn't have the stigma for whatever reason. I think partially because I had been able to cope for so much of my life. I had graduated from college. So all of the consequences that I had been warned of didn't seem like they applied somehow. Governor, you are in one of the most rural states in the country. Again, you just don't think about a lot of heroin users. I want to read the figures. We heard some of them. Vermont is in the top ten states for the abuse of pain killers and prescription drug abuse. 2 million worth of heroin is trafficked in Vermont every week. People treated for heroin increased nearly 800% since 2000. What segment of your population is using drugs? You clearly saw this as a crisis. Well, you know, here's the point. Vermont has one of the best qualities of life in the country. Vermont is no different than the other states. The difference is we have a governor and law enforcement community who's willing to address it. The question is not so much why it's happening, but how do we deal with what's happening. And the challenge with this disease, it is a disease, is nobody wants to Ta about it and nobody wants to change the way we're doing business. And nobody knows how it's changed. And let's be honest, the opiates prescribed by the fda lead folks to opiate addiction. Now in Vermont, oxycontin is more expensive than heroin. Folks move from fda-approved drugs to heroin. It's a lifelong battle, a life-long addiction. We have to deal with this better to reduce crime and get these folks back into productive lives. I want to go to you about the life-long addiction. There's the notion that no matter how long you're sober, and you know this well, Seth, that you can go back. Russell brand, the british comedian and recovering heroin addict said this this week, there is a predominant voice in the mind of an addict that supersedea all reason and that voice want use dead. That's the unrelenting echo of an unfulfillble void. What happens to the brain? There's a rewiring of the brain. You have these chemicals in your brain that make changes. One of the lessons from Philip Seymour Hoffman's death is it is a lifelong problem. Everyone I've talked to what is -- that is an addict say they are always an addict and recovering. Not something in the past. I want you to say in 30 seconds to say -- you have a governor here, what has to happen now? Yeah, I think there are three things, prevention, treatment and risk reduction. You have to control the pills. Keep the drug out of the country. For treatment, you're focused on it in Vermont, get the waiting lists to go away so people can get care. The affordable health care act helps with that. Making sure addicts stay alive to get to treatment. We have come a long way in destigmatizing alcohol and drug addiction. We're not fully there yet. And when we talk about relapse -- You still hear that voice. That unrelenting voice. I do. And it's something I need to be conscious of. If someone has diabetes or high blood pressure, no one would be surprised if that acts up later in life. Those are chronic diseases and they have relapses. Drug addiction and alcoholism is something you need to keep constant watch on to stay in recovery. Goverr, ten seconds. Just tell me what's next. Stop thinking we can solve this and treat it like a disease just like any other disease. When you tnk about it, if folks smoke cigarettes and get cancer, we feel compassion. This is no different. We have to get the judicial system and health care system to treat this as a disease. Thank you very much. All of you, we'll be right back

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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