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Drugs Health Care

Autopsy of an Epidemic

Heroin
Heroin, disguised as pain pills.

Our generation doesn’t think to send their kids off to college with, “And stay away from heroin, it’s a killer!” But we need to because heroin is ubiquitous, cheap, easy, and deadly.

Last month I was blindsided by Zafer’s death. After recovering my balance, I started reading. I needed to know how a well-adjusted, talented college freshman had overdosed on heroin. What I learned was shocking.

The United States is experiencing an epidemic.

“Accidental drug overdose is currently the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States for people between the ages of 35-54 and the second leading cause of injury-related death for young people. Drug overdose deaths now exceed those attributable to firearms, homicides or HIV/AIDS.” – DrugPolicy.org

“Heroin-related deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014, with 10,574 heroin deaths in 2014.” – CDC.gov

“Use of the drug in the United States increased 79 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to federal data, triggering a wave of overdose deaths and an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.” – Washington Post

Heroin Overdose Graph

“Use it twice and you’re addicted” someone told me. Z died on his third try. But he wasn’t addicted, I protest. Zafer does not fit my image of a heroin addict. Times have changed.

Today’s heroin user is more likely to smoke it than inject it. It comes in pill form, is much cheaper than it was forty years ago, and you can even buy it online. “In the ’70s, a bag of heroin — enough to get a user high once — cost $30 and was about 28-percent pure. Today, it’s 80 percent to 90 percent pure, which makes it powerfully addictive, and it sells for $4 a bag.” from NPR’s Heroin in America series.

Riding the white horse has never been easier.

I try to put myself in his shoes. Like Zafer, I felt invincible at nineteen. My parents cautioned me against sex, drugs, and rock and roll to no avail. My life was mine to live and I wanted to taste everything it had to offer. Except heroin, of course.

I hung out with friends who were users. They called it horse, but as much as I love to ride I never rode this one because we all knew it rode you. No one wanted a monkey on their back nor wished that horror on others. I’d seen the writhing pain of withdrawal and wanted none of it. My friends never offered to share the drug and I never asked. It was different back then.

Heroin is now accepted as a recreational drug without regard for the risks and we have widespread pharmaceutical use and legalized marijuana to blame.

ShatterproofBlaming meds is easy. I disdain the pervasive fear of pain or discomfort that drives the pill culture and loathe the predatory pharmaceutical companies. A little pain never hurt anyone! My country has become a nation of addicted weenies.

I am less inclined to implicate marijuana. Facts are facts, though and when you take Mexico’s economy into consideration, the correlation makes perfect sense. The legalization of marijuana reduced the profitability of cannabis at the same time widespread use of pain meds opened up a lucrative market for heroin. Farmers began planting poppies in their pot fields and pain medication addicts soon had a cheaper alternative.

Utah, of all places, demonstrated the path forward with an aggressive education program. “The state’s overdose death rate climbed steadily during the early 2000s, driven by growing prescription opioid dependence. But Utah lawmakers took action early. In 2007, they established a two-year public health-based program to combat painkiller misuse.

Over the next three years, prescription opioid-related overdose deaths dropped more than 25%, but the success was short lived. After funding ran out in 2010, deaths began to climb again.

“We saw that when we weren’t educating the public and providers, awareness decreased and deaths increased,” said Angela Stander, prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator at the Utah department of public health.” [CDC.gov]

Bottom line, education will stop the spread of the overdose epidemic. Support legislation. Throw in with the folks at Shatterproof. Spread the word.

Additional sources:

Overdose Death Rates

A deadly crisis: mapping the spread of America’s drug overdose epidemic

Office of National Drug Control Policy: The International Heroin Market

How Much Does Heroin Cost?

Why a bag of heroin costs less than a pack of cigarettes

How Your Teenage Son or Daughter May Be Buying Heroin Online

Colorado Opioid Symposium: Reducing the Impacts of Opioids in Colorado

Opioid-Antidote Drug Will Now Be Available to US High Schools for Free

By Camille Armantrout

Camille Armantrout lives with her soul mate, Bob, in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

One reply on “Autopsy of an Epidemic”

This is a terrible crisis that is attacking many levels of our society an many age groups! Keep the conversation going. Pass it on save a life!

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