HENRICO, Va. (WTVR)--The seemingly sudden and early death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman on Sunday shocked a nation who had come to love his dynamic and nuanced performances. He was only 46.
Hoffman said in a “60 Minutes" interview in 2006 that he had been clean since he was 23. In 2013 he entered a rehabilitation program after experimentation with prescription painkillers bloomed into a messy habit that led to heroin.
Hoffman was found with a syringe in his arm and a number of used syringes, prescription drugs and empty bags that authorities suspect used to hold heroin also were found in the apartment.
The path from opiate painkillers to heroin use is becoming well-tread, even among the young, experts say.
In 2010, two million people reported using prescription painkillers non-medically for the first time, nearly 5,500 a day, according to federal data.
That same year enough opioid pain relievers (OPR) were sold to medicate every adult in the United States with the equivalent of a typical dose of 5 mg of hydrocodone every four hours for one month, a 300% increase in the sales rate over 11 years.
Heroin use hit a peak in the 1990's and eventually started to decline, but recently the drug has re-emerged. This time it's more appealing to the younger generation who are all too familiar with the buzz from painkillers.
A 2012 drug abuse survey found that 669,000 people over the age of 12 reported using heroin that year. And 156,000 were first-time users. While some are seeking help, a majority are not.
Also frightening is that just last year 20% of 12th graders reported that they knew where to score heroin.
"I started using drugs when I was 13-years old,” Brittany Horchak told CBS 6.
Brittany has been clean since September, but it's been a long seven year journey- getting there. She said that her addiction started with pot and painkillers, but she eventually turned to heroin.
"Personally, it made me feel like I was in heaven and it made me feel completely numb."
Not only that, Brittany said the heroin was cheaper, it was potent and she could get it anywhere.
“You know some of the people I went to buy heroin and crack and pain pills from lived in really nice neighborhoods and really nice houses,” she said. “I hardly ever went to the ghetto to buy drugs."
Brittany’s story is not an exception. Substance abuse centers like SAARA said they've seen a recent uptick in heroin use, especially among young folks.
"I’d say about half of the people here are a case of getting addicted to painkillers after surgery and graduated to heroin because it's cheaper,” Majorie Yates, Associate Director at SAARA, said.
For about $10, young folks say they can get a fix that will last for hours.
"Most everyone knows where to get some,” a young adult attending a meeting at McShin Foundation said.
Several teens and young adults meet weekly at the McShin Foundation; many are from the West End.
"I lost my best friend at 16-- to opiate use. It's been explosive since, as far as I can remember,” one young West End adult said.
Opioid deaths have nearly doubled between 2001 and 2010. And drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990--and have never been higher than currently. In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs.
The Washington Post reported Friday that in Virginia, "officials recorded 91 accidental heroin deaths in the first nine months of 2012, up from 90 for all of 2011 and 70 for 2010."
What makes heroin much more dangerous than painkillers, is the doses aren't measured and heroin is often mixed with other drugs, including fentanyl.
Everyone at the McShin meeting, often held seven days a week, is seeking recovery to an addiction that's shattered their lives.
"I’ve been a wrecking ball to everyone I put myself around- my friends, my family- the community as a whole."
While some are seeking help, a majority are not.
"Right now, the stigma of addiction is frowned upon and so negative that kids aren't speaking out about the problem," Horchak said.
Horchak said she fears what will happen if society as a whole doesn't face up to the growing problem. “A lot of young people are wrapped up in society and what people think of them."
Virginia lawmakers recently struck down legislation that would have protected a person from prosecution if they sought medical attention for an alcohol or drug related overdose.