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Same, sad song: Young talent loses life to drugs and alcohol - Autopsy proves that 'Glee' star Cory Monteith died of alcohol, heroin

By Greg Goodsell
July 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It was the same, sad song that's been sung often before. A fresh young talent, with an exciting career before them brutally cut down due to drugs and alcohol. Thirty-one-year-old singer and actor Cory Monteith, star of the hit TV series "Glee" died alone in a Vancouver hotel room. An autopsy proved that Monteith died of heroin and alcohol.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Monteith had been straightforward over his past battles with substance abuse. What came as a most unpleasant surprise was that heroin factored into his death. In many people's minds, the notion of a heroin user is the emaciated figure one sees creeping in urban neighborhoods, not fresh-faced young hopefuls.

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The economics and demographics of heroin use in the U.S. have been in a state of flux over the past several years. According to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monteith largely fits the new profile of a heroin user, that of a white male in his 30s.

"I deal with drug users every day," Dr. Richard Clark, an emergency room physician and director of toxicology at the University Of California San Diego Medical Center says. "The stereotypical user on the street? That's the past as far as heroin use in the U.S. is concerned. Lots of people are using it these days - kids, teenagers, white-collar workers."

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According to experts, the new wave of heroin addicts begins abusing the drug as teenagers, often living in suburban or rural areas. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) documented an alarming 80 percent increase in first use of heroin among teens since 2002.

More than 500 teens and young adults between 15 and 24 died of a heroin overdose in 2009, up from 1989 a decade earlier.

"People think it's totally impossible that they could know somebody who could be on that trajectory," Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist at the University Of Washington School Of Public Health says. Monteith, Banta-Green said, "is what a heroin user looks like."

Heroin is cheaper and more plentiful than other drugs. Once obtained through routes from the Far East and Southwest Asia, heroin has begun being produced in South America and Mexico, much closer to the U.S.

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In the meantime, the U.S. government crackdown on abuse of prescription opiates like oxycodone has made the painkillers harder and more expensive to get, especially in rural areas where the pills had become popular recreational drugs. So drug users turned to heroin.

"We knew that this would happen," Eliza Wheeler, project manager for overdose prevention and treatment with the Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group says. "For the folks dependent on prescription pills, the logical thing is to switch to heroin."

Drug abusers then begin to prefer the rush of heroin. "There is no better opiate high than heroin," he said. "It's converted in the body to morphine within about 15 minutes and gets into the brain dramatically."

Heroin use dropped sharply during the height of the late 1980s-1990s AIDS crisis because drug users didn't want to risk injections. Heroin is now often snorted or smoked, giving it the same kind of ease of use, and even societal cache, as cocaine once had.

While Monteith is the first major celebrity example of heroin overdose, he is only the latest in a long trail of deaths among entertainers at least partly associated with the drug: Jazz man Charlie "Bird" Parker in 1955, John Belushi in 1982 and actor River Phoenix in 1993.

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