The recent death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman renewed the focus not just on heroin, but on the cheap, easy access more people have to this deadly drug. This week WGBH puts a focus on heroin abuse in our area.

Michael Miles is  a husky, hard boiled Lowell police officer.  More than 30 years on the force, he thought he’d seen it all.  Until this new heroin hit Merrimack Valley

"Heroin’s a lot easier to get.  It’s a lot more accessible to anybody. Most are snorting it.  Don’t realize how dangerous it is.  It puts you to sleep and sometimes you don’t wake up," Miles said.

Not waking up - is overdosing.  And it’s happening at an epidemic rate. The brain is anesthetized and literally forgets to send a signal to the brain to breathe. The person stops breathing, and drifts into death. 

In Boston, Heroin overdoses shot up 76 percent between 2010 and 2012. Now suburban towns are dealing with the deadly drug.

"When you get that call or read that obit. It’s like you failed it’s tough," Miles said.

Miles knows what it takes to be a drug addict. He was one while wearing his blue uniform. Now sober, he  also works as a drug and alcohol counselor. Many of his clients are in law enforcement and professional sports.  

And their addictions started innocently - with an injury and prescribed pain pills. Miles said he found a young friend of his dead two days after Christmas with two Fentanyl patches in his mouth. 

The potent synthetic painkiller Fentanyl,  which is similar to oxycodone, was prescribed for his friend’s knee injury. In high doses it’s deadly. Though it’s a prescription drug, fentanyl is easy to get on the internet without one.

Fentanyl in pill form is what’s being mixed with heroin now to create this “new” heroin --responsible for killing dozens across the country. Fentanyl mixed with heroin creates a high 10 to 100 times stronger than heroin alone.  

"It’s a log stronger than it’s ever been," Miles said. "Nowadays high school kids are getting it. College kids are getting it."

At  $10 to $20 a bag, it’s often cheaper than marijuana, and much cheaper than Percocet or other prescription opiates.

"In lieu of being a prescription drug that costs $100 a day, they can get five bags of heroin for $100," Miles said.

Heroin lasts twice as long and the “high” is more potent. It’s not just for needle users anymore either, it can be snorted or smoked and it’s got the social cache cocaine had in the 1980s.  Experts say it takes about three weeks to get physically addicted.

"They think that’s their only friend. That’s what I need to get me through the day or night," Miles said.

They will lie and steal to get heroin. If they quit, more than 90 percent will relapse.

"A lot of people come in here waiting to relapse. They don’t want to stay sober," said Miles.

Heroin can be used to self medicate for pain, depression, and anxiety.  Heroin abuse typically starts in the late teenage years.  Miles refers to young users as the "W kids" because he said they come from places like Wellesley and Weston. They’re typically white and upper middle class.  

And they are the new face of  heroin abuse in 2014. 

The Boston Public Health Commission reports heroin overdoses shot up 76 percent between 2010 and 2012.