Local officials report deaths and overdoses attributed to heroin have reached epidemic proportions, and observers say increasing border security could help cut down on the influx of the drug.
Following the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, the administration posted an item at the website for the White House stating it has "seen indications that heroin use is increasing among young adults, which is a serious concern."
Much of the heroin is being imported from Mexico and South America. A recent DEA report showed a 232 percent rise in heroin trafficking across the southwest border from 2008 to 2012.
The administration’s latest figure, from a yet-to-be-released report, shows a 324 percent increase from 2008 to 2013.
Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) suggested tighter border security is one way to stop the heroin from getting through Mexico and onto America’s streets.
"It’s been more than three years since the Obama Administration had a credible way to measure border security, so it should come as no surprise that drug trafficking is on the rise at our porous Southern border," Cornyn said in an emailed statement.
"The administration is failing to protect the families who live and work along our border with Mexico. It is beyond time for the Obama Administration to deploy an objective metric that measures the security of our border and to immediately secure those areas of the border that remain vulnerable," Cornyn said.
A recent report showed the federal government itself was complicit in allowing drugs across the U.S. border.
The government allowed the Sinaloa Cartel’s drugs—worth billions of dollars—to be smuggled across in exchange for information on rival gangs.
Border agents have also witnessed an increase in heroin smuggling recently.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said in an email, "I can say that our agents have reported seeing more heroin smuggling along our borders."
George Spencer, whose Arizona ranch sits near the Mexico border, has documented the vulnerabilities at the border through his nonprofit, the American Border Patrol. He has witnessed firsthand the ease with which illegal immigrants and smugglers cross the border.
"Indications we have are the drug cartels are desperate," Spencer said, citing competition from medicinal marijuana spurring cartels to earn their money via the importation of different drugs. He also said the smugglers are using innovative ways to get drugs over the border, including the use of ultra-light aircraft.
Former Chicago Police Captain John Roberts has seen the effects of heroin on the streets. He never imagined heroin would take the life of his son, Billy, at the age of 19.
"I lost Billy, and I can’t get him back, but I can’t help but lead this fight," Roberts said. He helped draft the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which allows those witnessing a drug overdose to receive immunity for drug possession when calling for medical help.
He also formed the nonprofit Heroin Epidemic Research Organization (HERO), which lectures students and offers grief counseling to those whose lives have been impacted by heroin.
Roberts said the solution to the heroin epidemic is to educate teens and others about the dangers of the drug.
"We have to rethink our strategy," Roberts said. "Maybe we ought to take a step back and evaluate if there is a better approach."
Chicago has seen heroin rise from the fourth- to second-largest reason for addiction treatment over the past five years.
"We’ve been doing this for years, and is it working? Is what the Feds doing working?" Roberts asked. He indicated more resources are needed for research, prevention, and treatment.
His county is starting to see results. Will County, where Roberts now lives and where HERO is based, has seen a 30 percent drop in heroin deaths—from 53 deaths in 2012 to 35 in 2013. Though Roberts does not take credit for this drop, he is hopeful with the results.