SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - It's been almost two years since the FDA approved a new time-release design of Oxycontin to prevent illegal misuse and abuse of the pain relieving drug. But the new version is causing San Diego authorities new stress. They're seeing an alarming rise in people switching to heroin as a potentially deadly substitute.
Simone, a 22-year-old recovering addict from La Jolla, had been abusing Oxycontin, which became her gateway into heroin.
"Every day I was risking my life, because I had no idea what was in the drug I was taking," she said.
She says she crushed and smoked "Oxy," which cost her $80 a pill. Her habit became just too expensive, so she hooked up with heroin at only $40 a gram.
"I tried it and automatically it was like, I want to feel this good all the time," Simone said.
Scripps treatment program interventionist Nancy Knott says scoring heroin can be done anywhere in the county.
"I consider this to be a community problem, a parent problem and a school problem," Knott said.
News 8 first learned about the Oxycontin-heroin connection from county medical examiner Dr. Glen Wagner, who's seen it turn up during toxicology tests of apparent overdose victims. The bottom line for the medical examiner when it comes to the Oxycontin-heroin abuse connection?
"A lot of folks come through my doors prematurely," Wagner said.
Officials with the county's Health and Human Services Agency Drug and Alcohol Services division say they've seen an alarming increase of people using heroin who are between the ages of 18 to 25.
"It's staggering to think in the past five years there's been a 229 percent increase," Susan Bower said.
There's also another startling statistic when it comes to local addicts who admit to using heroin.
"In 2007 heroin represented 10 percent. In 2011 it represented 17 percent. We're not seeing that kind of increase with other drugs," Bower said.
DEA spokesman Tom Lenox says he hopes young adults are getting the message loud and clear about the deadly trend.
"We don't want them using the prescription drugs illegally, and we certainly don't want them falling into the habit of becoming an addict to street-level drugs," Lenox said.
Now 13 months clean, Simone says she's glad she's kicked the heroin habit and her life is back on track.
"I never thought I'd have my family back in my life, my friends, and be happy and at peace sober," she said.
The county has dozens of treatment centers that can help Oxycontin and heroin addicts, and they have a 24-hour access line as well.