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The heroin epidemic continues to grow, so what can be done?: Editorial

Posted 3/22/17

We are in the middle of an epidemic.

Cold, hard facts bear it out.

Drug overdose deaths, with heroin leading the way, are killing at a higher rate than ever before.

Coroner Graham S. Hetrick …

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The heroin epidemic continues to grow, so what can be done?: Editorial

Posted

We are in the middle of an epidemic.

Cold, hard facts bear it out.

Drug overdose deaths, with heroin leading the way, are killing at a higher rate than ever before.

Coroner Graham S. Hetrick recently announced that drug overdoses caused more deaths last year in Dauphin County than car accidents, with a record 12 in December alone. Overall, 85 occurred in 2016, up from 71 in 2016. Car crashes killed 66 people in 2016.

Philly.com reported that overdose deaths rose 43 percent in Montgomery County to 253 in 2016. In Philadelphia, it was more than 900 — more than three times the number of homicides.

Heroin is cheap (a habit can be supported by just $10 to $20 a day). It’s lethal (it’s now often cut with fentanyl, which can be 100 times stronger than morphine and is easy to synthesize, according to vice.com). And it’s available. Just ask any local police force.

These deaths come despite the fact that police and other first-responders in Pennsylvania are using Narcan to revive victims of heroin overdoses. People have been saved by police right here in Middletown and Lower Swatara Township more than once in the last year.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is clear on one link to heroin addiction. It’s opioid medications, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Demerol. When used properly, they are wonderful for treating pain.

However: “Research now suggests that abuse of these medications may actually open the door to heroin use. Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. Some individuals reported switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is a federal-government research institute, states on its website.

It’s possible you don’t know anyone who has died of a drug overdose. But it’s also foolish to think that can’t or won’t change at any given time.

And even if you don’t know someone who is an addict or who has been affected by a drug overdose, it’s affecting you right in the pocketbook.

“Opioid death and the ensuing investigations and prosecutions will have a significant impact on both the coroner’s medical services budget and the district attorney’s office,” Hetrick’s report states in its conclusions section.

Think about all the law enforcement costs related to fighting the war on drugs. Think about all the petty crimes committed because of addicts needing money to feed the habit. That was the motive of the alleged “copper burglar” of Middletown last year.

In just the four vacant properties that James J. Goodling had been charged with burglarizing in November, the estimated damage from the break-ins totaled more than $12,000, police said.

We don’t have answers on how to prevent drug abuse or heroin deaths. But the National Institute on Drug Abuse offers some insight. Drug addiction is an all-consuming beast. The best way to prevent it is to not start.

“Early use of drugs increases a person’s chances of developing addiction. Remember, drugs change brains — and this can lead to addiction and other serious problems. So, preventing early use of drugs or alcohol may go a long way in reducing these risks. If we can prevent young people from experimenting with drugs, we can prevent drug addiction.”

We know. That’s easier said than done.

But not trying is not an option. How many deaths will it take before we realize as a society the pervasiveness of these addictions?

It’s scary. But at some point, the tide will turn on these deaths. It might take years, but it can start with educating your children about the horrors of heroin. It’s not a drug to be trifled with.

We will leave you with this: According to the National Center on Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse, if a person can avoid drinking or using drugs until after they turn 21, they are virtually certain to never have a problem with substance abuse.

heroin

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