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Overdoses likely killed 2 in 24 hours

Two Ashland men found dead in their homes on consecutive nights this week likely died of heroin overdoses, police said Wednesday.

The first incident was reported at 8:18 p.m. Monday night in the 700 block of Laurel Street. Police responded to the second death exactly 24 hours later, at 8:18 p.m. Tuesday in the 2400 block of Siskiyou Boulevard.

Police haven't release the name of either man.

"There is some medical information we want to protect," said Deputy Chief Corey Falls. "It doesn't appear that they (their bodies) were there very long, and our detectives are following up on that right now."

The first death was reported by a family member who found a 36-year-old man dead at home.

The Tuesday night death was reported by a family friend who found a 34-year-old man dead, also at home.

Officials are calling the deaths suspected overdoses — they still are awaiting results from testing in the lab. "It was what was found on scene that made us suspect it was a heroin overdose, but until we get back the information, we can't say for sure," Falls said.

Police also are investigating whether the two cases are connected. "That's one thing our detectives look into," said Falls. "Just because these happened on back-to-back nights, it makes it odd, but our detectives just try to gather information."

For now, investigators are collecting evidence and talking to possible witnesses.

The deaths push the number of suspected heroin overdoses in Ashland this year to three. The city of Ashland had one suspected heroin overdose in 2011 and one in 2010.

"I think that it's certainly uncommon if you look over the course of the last few years, having two overdoses, two nights in a row," Falls said. "We wanted to put something out just to notify the public. I do feel that it's a weird situation."

According to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau, heroin use is on the rise. That's due in part to increasing difficulty users encounter in illegally obtaining prescription drugs, he said.

"What we have seen is a lot of folks getting addicted to prescription drugs, so drug companies started making pills you can't crush, and doctors got smarter about prescribing," said Budreau. "So now we're seeing those folks use heroin, which is sometimes cheaper and more potent."

Heroin is particularly dangerous compared with other illegal substances because it can kill quickly, said Budreau.

"It could be slightly too much heroin or too potent heroin. You could be dead in minutes," said Budreau, "Even if you have a consistent drug dealer, that heroin can vary. If you're using illegal drugs there's no consistency to standards. It's something that we're seeing an increase in, and not surprisingly we're seeing an increase in overdose deaths."

Before this week's reports, there had been two confirmed deaths in Jackson County in 2012 from heroin overdoses, a 23-year-old man and a 43-year-old woman. According to Budreau, there were two other cases of overdoses, but they survived after being hospitalized.

Police have seen a big jump in heroin seizures this year, in part due to one particularly large case. Local police have seized 54 pounds of heroin, compared with 3.5 pounds in 2009.

"We had a huge case where we took 47 pounds off a bus that was heading north to the Portland-Vancouver area," said Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement, or MADGE, Commander Lt. Brett Johnson. "Forty-seven pounds is kind of an anomaly, we got lucky, but 7 pounds is still up quite a bit from the 31/2 in 2009."

Johnson said heroin use often starts with something as simple as taking Vicodin, which can lead to an opiate addiction.

"We've seen a spike in the usage in the last few years, I attribute it to the use of pills," said Johnson, "and the availability of gun powder heroin, which takes away from the stigma of putting it in a needle. It's a lot easier to get someone to try to snort or smoke it."

But, drug experts warn, the gunpowder heroin often can be many times more powerful than traditional tar heroin and thus more likely to lead to overdoses.

According to Johnson, heroin users used to be a small group that didn't grow because of the stigma of shooting up with a needle.

"The stigma has long since left the building. Now we're seeing youngsters using it," said Johnson. "And the addiction level of opiates is just horrible. Breaking that cycle is really tough.

"The addictive qualities are so nasty it scares me more than meth — and meth scares the heck out of me."

Mandy Valencia is a reporter with the Mail Tribune. Reach her at avalencia@mailtribune.com or 541-776-4486.