When Heroin Hits Home

The Heroin epidemic has raged across our country for years now, and it has definitely hit Ohio hard. Heroin use has broken through all socioeconomic barriers, and there are few people left untouched by the drug.

Heroin is an opioid drug that causes a feeling of euphoria. It is typically taken via injection or inhalation, and its effects can last for hours. When heroin enters the body, it is converted into its purer opiate form, morphine. Once this morphine hits the brain, it binds to opioid receptors, causing a strong sense of pain relief and euphoria. The sensations caused by heroin and other opioids are much stronger than what the body naturally produces, leading to users who become dependent on a high that their body can’t naturally give them. Most heroin users begin by taking prescription opioids, which produce the same effect as heroin, after a surgery or for chronic pain. Once they are hooked, many people turn to heroin because law enforcement has cracked down on prescription painkillers. This makes heroin not only more accessible but also substantially cheaper. According to the CDC, there was an 18.3% increase in drug overdose deaths in Ohio between 2013 and 2014, most of them due to heroin. (source) The craziest part about this heroin epidemic is how widespread it has become. There is no single archetypal heroin user. It could be anyone from an inner-city blue collar worker to a suburban teenager to a rural working mother. Addiction has become a major medical crisis, and it’s time for something to be done about it.

Although heroin and opiate addiction is not a prevalent problem on Kenyon’s campus, it has a major influence throughout the rest of Knox County. Multiple task forces have been created throughout the county to curb drug abuse, and most recently, there was a town hall meeting to address the issue within the community. This is incredibly important because the first step that needs to be taken in order to get addicts the help they need is to eliminate the stigma that comes along with being an addict. Addicts aren’t bad people. They are normal people who have gotten themselves into bad situations. Addiction is a disease, just like cancer or a mental illness or even the flu. Although it is considered to be a medical disease, many people claim that addicts don’t need help because they brought their illness upon themselves. I disagree.

As previously mentioned, many of the current heroin addicts began after being prescribed painkillers for chronic pain or after surgery. So, let’s think about your friend who just had his wisdom teeth removed. He wakes up from surgery in a dazed state of bliss, giggling and smiling, while you film all of his funny antics to post on YouTube later. Fast forward to a week later as he is finishing up his prescription for opiate painkillers, and he excitedly asks you “Is this what being high feels like?” A month later, he longs for that euphoric high that he felt post-surgery. Six months later, his friend gets their wisdom teeth out, and he pops one of their pills to feel that joyful intoxication one last time. Twelve months later he is taking pills every weekend with his friends. Eighteen months later, he’s running out of the money to feed his opioid pill addiction, and one of his friends introduces him to heroin. He finds that it gives him the same high as before, while also saving him hundreds of dollars a month. Fast forward, and in two years your friend is a full-on heroin addict. He’s been in and out of rehab multiple times, but he has an addiction, and getting clean isn’t as easy as everyone makes it out to be. He knows that heroin has destroyed his life, but the high that he gets brings him more happiness than anything he’s ever experienced before. Addiction causes the chemicals in the brain to change, leading to a person who is physically unable to refrain from using that which they are addicted to. And how can we blame our younger brother for his addiction when he only started taking drugs per his doctor’s recommendation after a surgery? His brain turned on him, and he didn’t even have a chance.

Okay, okay, maybe I’ll make an exception for my younger brother, but some of those other drug addicts—they start on their own! They’re druggies who get into bad situations on their own, smoking pot and taking pills from a young age. It’s their own fault that they are addicted, and they don’t deserve help.

Wrong. This logic is incredibly hypocritical because our health system treats (and our public tax dollars pay for the treatment of) self-induced diseases on a daily basis. Heart disease, another leading killer in the United States, is one example. According to the NIH, smoking is one of the largest causes of heart disease. Nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco products, is addictive substance that, like heroin, affects the pleasure centers in one’s brain. Just like opiate use, it is very easy to get addicted to tobacco products, and it can lead to a lifetime of health problems. Our healthcare system readily treats smokers with health problems without batting an eye, while drug addicts are left to fend for themselves. How is being addicted to nicotine any different than being addicted to heroin, especially when addiction often begins after a prescription from a doctor, while smoking is all one’s choice?

With over five people dying of opioid overdose every day in Ohio, the stakes have never been higher to get addicts the help they need. The stigma surrounding addiction needs to be corrected, so as a community we must begin to support those who need our help. Just as you would support a friend with cancer, we must also step up to lend a hand to those struggling with addiction. It’s not easy to stop. This can be seen in the countless people who have gone through multiple stays in rehab, and most tragically in the people who tried to get help but ultimately succumbed to the disease. Our friends and family, our communities, deserve better, and in order to stop this epidemic, we must first stand with those with addictions and help them to get clean.

Image Credit: Drug Abuse, CDN, Alcohol Treatment Centers Scottsdale

Resources:

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heroin.html#summary

http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/07/us/drug-overdose-deaths-in-the-us.html?_r=0

http://www.healthy.ohio.gov/~/media/HealthyOhio/ASSETS/Files/injury%20prevention/2014%20Ohio%20Preliminary%20Overdose%20Report.pdf

https://www.ohiobar.org/NewsAndPublications/OhioLawyer/Pages/Fighting-Ohios-heroin-epidemic.aspx

http://heroin.net/heroin-effects/heroin-effects-sub-page-1/heroin-effects-on-the-brain/

Also, here’s an interesting video I found of a heroin user’s account of what is feels like to be on heroin.