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Heroin is killing America’s youth

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While America is busy becoming more politically divided than any time since the civil war, it’s future is being destroyed by an addiction to heroin. Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015.

Years ago when I first heard about heroin use at my son’s high school I was shocked. I had grown up around a lot of substance abuse but had only known two people who had ever used heroin and both became addicted and died young. Heroin was taboo even to people that were very active drug users. Finding out that there was widespread use in one of the better school districts in suburban Long Island was hard to believe. Like many people, I was not without judgement. After all, you have to be pretty stupid or pretty bad to start using a drug that everyone understood to be a one-way ticket ti Hell, right?

Towards the end of my son’s senior year in high school, I happened to come across a photo of my son on the internet. He was wearing a toga and had a beer in one hand and a joint in the other. Having smoked a ton of grass in my youth, it wasn’t a big shock to see my kid getting high. It was a surprise and I didn’t know that he had been smoking pot. That same night his mum called me and said she had found pot in his room and confronted him about it. She grounded him and took away his driving privileges but he was disrespectful and took the car and left anyway. That news didn’t sit well with me and I tracked him down at a friends house and told him to say goodbye to his friends because he was going to military school starting tomorrow.

On the drive home, he began to cry and tell me it was my fault and suggested I ignored the fact that he was using heroin. I didn’t believe him and had him tested for opiate use. The test came back negative and I figured he was just using the well-publicised heroin use at his school to scare me or punish me for embarrassing him in front of his friends.

A few years later he started working with me and seemed to be clean and sober. Then one day he was involved in a car accident and injured his shoulder pretty badly. He started taking prescription Oxycontin. He quickly developed a dependency that eventually lead him into the world of hard core opiates. It didn’t take long before he was a heroin addict. He was in and out of rehab and back and forth between cold sobriety and unhinged drug use many times. In February of 2017, he crossed the line with a fatal overdose. Suddenly the judgement I had harboured years earlier turned to the questions everyone who has ever loved an addict has to face: How could this happen?

Deaths from opioid drug overdoses have hit an all-time record in the U.S., rising 14 percent in just one year, and heroin deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013.

In 2015 alone more than 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 33,000 of these fatal overdoses were from opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin.

Dr. Silvia Martins of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry: “Heroin use appears to have become more socially acceptable among suburban and rural white individuals, perhaps because its effects seem so similar to those of widely available prescription opioids”. Putting aside the racial element in that statement for just a moment, I can tell you that it’s not socially acceptable to anyone of any race. It does, however, devastate families across all demographics. Our youth are killing themselves daily.

As with my son, the path to heroin use often started with the non-medical use of prescription opioid painkillers, rising from about 36 percent in 2001-2002 to nearly 53 percent in 2012-2013, the investigators found. While new laws aimed at limiting access to the opioid prescriptions have been enacted, lawmakers and politicians seem to be powerless in making progress towards solving the problem of heroin addiction.

Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School offered this historical analysis of the heroin crisis: “The root causes of this sea change were triggered by two reports that opioids are safe for long-term management of non-cancer pain.”

While much lip service is given to the cause, the big pharma lobby and it’s financial influence over politicians has a dulling effect upon real change. “There is a dire need for a national, effective campaign specific for different populations — such as the public, patients and physicians — on the life-threatening hazards of opioid-induced addiction and overdose and street heroin/fentanyl,” Madras said.

“We must not lose any more people, many in the prime of their lives, to drug overdoses,” she stated.

 

Matthew Nappo

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