By Darcy McConnell
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency figures show a four-fold increase in heroin seizures along the southwest border since 2008: 4,653 pounds of heroin was confiscated in 2013, with the amount of pure heroin more than doubling. The National Drug Threat Assessment Summary reported: “The increase in Southwest Border seizures appears to correspond with increasing levels of production of Mexican heroin and expansion of Mexican heroin traffickers into new U.S. markets.” Interestingly enough the drug is infiltrating our affluent suburbs and rural communities.
It has become apparent that the abuse of opioids or painkillers has been a serious public health issue for the past decade. While the United States only makes up 5% of the world’s population, we are responsible for 80% consumption of the world’s opioids. This prevalence has resulted in accidental prescription drug overdose being the leading cause of acute preventable death for Americans. Someone dies in this manner every 19 minutes, which is more deaths than from car accidents nationwide.
According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, both heroin and opioid pills are derived from the poppy plant and chemically bind to the same group of receptors in the brain. Both produce: an increase in pain tolerance and a sense of euphoria, along with drowsiness, occasional nausea and, at higher doses, a slowing of the user's breathing. These drugs often produce intolerable withdrawal symptoms. These similarities are the reason that many pain pill abusers turn to heroin when pills become unavailable or too expensive. Heroin has been found to be consistently cheaper than prescription drugs. For example, an opioid cost about $1 per milligram as compared to heroin which is approximately one tenth of the price.
As recent news has reflected, several doctors have faced disciplinary action due to overprescribing and tighter restrictions on prescribers have been initiated. In 2010, an abuse deterrent version of Oxycontin was released. The reformulated drug cannot as easily be crushed or solubilized so abusers experience difficulty injecting or snorting it. It was reported by 2012 the abuse of Oxycontin decreased from 35.6% to 12.8%. However, the same study reported heroin use nearly doubled.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently reported on a study finding nearly half of young people who inject heroin say they abused prescription opioids before turning to the illegal drug. The increased use of heroin is leading to increased crime, decreased productivity and resulting in many accidental deaths. Unlike prescription drugs, heroin is a street drug that is unregulated and often impure. As a result, heroin users often suffer from collapsed veins, abscesses, infections of the heart lining and valves, and rheumatologic diseases. The spread of HIV and Hepatitis are also a concern because of the sharing of needles.
We must bring attention to this crisis that exists and work to ensure that people receive the drug treatment that they need. Drug addiction is a 100% manageable disease but we have to treat more than the symptoms. Fortunately naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opioids especially during an overdose, has become more widely administered by cops and EMTs. This is believed to have decreased overdoses nationwide. Surviving an overdose can be the life changing factor in someone’s addiction. If you need help with substance abuse, contact Edmond Family Counseling by phone 405-341-3554 or online at edmondfamily.org. We also provide free speakers on this or other topics!