Since 2002, heroin use has skyrocketed throughout the United States among almost all age groups, both genders, and various income levels. Interestingly, some of the biggest increases took place in demographic groups that were not previously high-risk categories: individuals with higher incomes, the privately insured, and women. However, such activity has now increased among these groups as well, and many who use this highly addictive drug never seek therapy.
Along with the increase of its use, fatalities involving heroin are on the rise. Most individuals who use this opioid also abuse other drugs, thus increasing their risk for death or brain damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2002 to 2013 the overdose rate for heroin almost quadrupled, with over 8,000 deaths in 2013. States play a vital role in the prevention of such addictions, as well as recovery efforts. Because there has been a 280 percent increase of such addictions from 2002 to 2015, it is imperative that local governments, as well as members of law enforcement, become involved in the effort to stop this dangerous trend.
Essential Facts about Opioid Dependency
Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal opioid and an overdose can lead to decreased respirations, coma, and eventual death. Many addicts also use this opioid in combination with alcohol or other drugs, which is a particularly dangerous practice. Heroin is usually injected, but can be snorted or smoked as well. Those who choose to inject drugs are at risk for bacterial infections of the heart, bloodstream, and skin. They are also in a high-risk category for contracting hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV, the latter of which leads to AIDS.
Those who are addicted to opioid prescription drugs or who are addicted to cocaine are at the highest risk of advancing to an illegal narcotic addiction. Additionally, males, people enrolled in Medicaid, those without insurance, and men and women between the ages of 18 and 25, who live in large cities, are also at an increased risk.
Doctor Andrew Kolodny, a drug counselor and doctor at Phoenix House, an established recovery center, once stated to the New York Times that it is difficult to “capture the opioid genie and put it back into the bottle.” This is an accurate statement, as up until three decades ago, even drug counselors and substance abuse experts believed that it was impossible to cure addicts addicted to heroin. The reason for this is the strong addictive properties for which this opioid is known, as well as the particularly harsh withdrawal symptoms that most individuals experience, even when going through professional detox.
Cost and Accessibility
Numerous individuals wonder why the drug is so inexpensive and accessible. This is due in part to the increase of supply that has occurred during the past two decades. There has been a significant boost in opium poppy production in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, South America, Mexico and Central Europe. As the economies in these countries decline, they rely more heavily on producing and exporting substances from which they can make a quick return.
Additionally, this drug is typically inexpensive because once it arrives in primary distribution hubs, such as New York City. It is generally diluted with infant laxatives, lactose, baking soda, or other cheap fillers. Therefore, bags stamped with a $10 price tag usually contain only 25 percent of the actual drug. Not surprisingly, that makes the substance cheaper, however, it also makes it deadlier.
The usual fatal overdose, contrary to what many people believe, does not involve new addicts. It generally involves long-term, experienced users who are 30 years of age or older and take the drug on a daily basis. Over 20 percent of such individuals have near misses every year. One of the reasons for this is that they often do not realize how much of the drug they have taken, or what else is mixed into the substance.
An overdose of any opioid cuts off signals to the brain that control breathing. Most individuals who overdose think they are simply going to sleep, but their bodies are actually oxygen deprived, resulting in extreme grogginess that they cannot overcome. When they fall asleep after taking too high a dose, they rarely awaken long enough to realize they are being deprived of oxygen, as would normally be the case if something was obstructing a person’s airflow.
Pro Active Measures to Combat Addiction
Because prescription painkiller abuse is the number one risk factor that leads to heroin addiction, professionals should be taught to identify high-risk patients early and improve prescribing practices for opiate painkillers. Those who are dependent or use prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to eventually try illegal narcotics. Opioid prescription drugs were never meant for long-term use, yet in many cases this is how they are prescribed. The longer they are used, the less effective they become, thus motivating the person to seek another source of euphoria.
Promoting proper treatment for addicted individuals is also important. Experts recommend that states embrace therapy in the form of a combination of counseling and MAT, a protocol that contains the drug combination of methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine. Currently, this is believed to be the best combination to lessen discomfort and cravings when one is in the detoxification phase of recovery. There is also a need for greater awareness in communities of a drug called naloxone, which is a life-saving medication that, when administered in time, can effectively reverse the effects of a narcotic overdose.
Further involvement of DEA officials in local jurisdictions where drug use is common is also recommended, as citizens in such communities sometimes know exactly who the local dealers are and where they sell illegal substances. However, they may be afraid to reach out to law enforcement or simply not know how to go about this task. Educational programs in schools and community centers go a long way to making this action a bit less daunting for the average person.
Seeking Inpatient Treatment
Those struggling with drug abuse should seek inpatient treatment without delay. Trying to handle problems of this type without the help of professionals is unwise. Additionally, many individuals who are addicted to opiates cannot be effectively treated through outpatient recovery programs. For this reason, anyone who is dependent on any type of narcotic should immediately contact an inpatient facility to start the recovery process.
Heroin Use in U.S. Reaches Epidemic Levels