TODAY   |  July 18, 2013

‘Glee’ star’s death puts new face on heroin abuse

“Glee” star Cory Monteith, who died Saturday from an overdose of alcohol and heroin, may not seem like the stereotypical heroin abuser, but research shows the drug has been adopted by a new generation of young and affluent users. NBC’s Katy Tur reports and David Ray of Number 16, an addiction recovery community, comments.

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>>> first, a serious problem being highlighted by the death of "glee" star cory monteith . a new generation of heroin users, young and affluent, who experts fear, may be naive about the risks. nbc's katie turr is in vancouver.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. heroin use is on the rise nationally. what was once considered an urban drug is spreading to college campuses and the suburbs. as many mourn the death of cory monteith , we wonder if this will serve as a wakeup call for just who was using the drugs. cory monteith spoke openly about his struggles with drugs and alcohol. still his clean cut persona seemed at odds with someone who does heroin.

>> i can relate more to him than, i would say, like amy winehouses of the world where they're train wrecks. you see it coming for a while. the people i grew up with, last time i saw them, they were doing great. they were holding down a job. next time i hear about them, they're dead.

>> reporter: 26-year-old katie martin is part of a new wave of heroin addicts from suburban middle class communities. she says she's been clean now for eight months, but at her lowest point, she was living in a car, shooting up to 60 bags of heroin a day. like monteith, katie martin doesn't seem like the type.

>> if you had told me in high school that i would be a heroin addict, i would have laughed at you.

>> reporter: growing up in suburban, new jersey, martin says heroin seemed like part of another world until one night when a boyfriend introduced it to her at a party.

>> i snorted it, i got sick, but i loved that feeling. so i did it again and again and again until i was putting a needle in my arm.

>> reporter: experts say that many young addicts, 39% according to a university of washington study, start out with prescription drugs that mimic heroin's effects.

>> the thing is that prescription pain pills , for a while they were pretty easy to get. now they're harder to get. they're pretty expensive. heroin is cheap and widely available.

>> it's spreading like wildfire. like a joke almost how many heroin addicts are from new jersey that came from upper middle class families.

>> reporter: cory monteith 's friends and family are struggling to cope with his sudden death . his "glee" co-star jane lynch speaking out last night on "the tonight show ."

>> cory is one of the biggest hearts, was a real bright light, and he was one of those guys that -- you know, he knew he was breathing rarified air, the gift that's this show, this wonderful show gave us.

>> i'm actually surprised there aren't more corys out there. it's isolating. people don't know until -- if you have the money, if you have the means, you're going to keep doing it until you die.

>> reporter: monteith's body was cremated on tuesday. there has been some controversy surrounding it as his father says he wasn't told about it and wasn't able to see his son's body beforehand. matt?

>> katie , thank you very much. david reyes, the co-founder and director of number 16, the 12-step community in massachusetts that helps men recover from alcohol and drug addiction . mr. ray, good morning. good to see you.

>> thanks for having me.

>> i think the strange thing about this is perception. when i was a kid or a teen anager in my 20s, you knew someone doing heroin, that person had a look. you could almost pick them out of the room. that almost doesn't hold true anymore. is there a new face of heroin use?

>> yeah, you've got to throw out the rule book . i had the same experience. when i was growing up, when i was in high school , if someone was smoking marijuana, they were on the edge. now it's just accepted in junior high and high school if you're using prescription pain medication or even heroin, that's kind of the new norm. and it's very disturbing.

>> why is that link -- why does it exist between prescription drug use and eventual heroin use?

>> well, i mean, it's pretty easy to understand. prescription drugs are regulated, and so they're a little more difficult to get, plus they're more expensive. what happens is, if people start experimenting with that and they develop a habit, it's too expensive. they're going to have to start robbing and stealing. heroin is easily accessible, less expensive, and you get the same, if not a better, high.

>> i want to talk about that easily accessible part in just a second. let me give you some statistics. 90% of teen heroin addicts are white. heroin is easier to buy than prescription drugs . by the way, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the u.s. you mentioned easily accessible. where are kids finding heroin?

>> the easy answer? anywhere. it's in the schools. it's in the communities. these aren't people that have to go to what would typically be understood as like heroin areas, inner cities, urban areas . this is out in the suburbs. it's out in the rural areas . and what i tell people is, if you don't know of the heroin problem right now, you're about to see it.

>> david ray . mr. ray, thanks very much for your input on this. i fresh appreciate it.