Understanding Heroin

Earlier this week, Frontline PBS aired the special “Chasing Heroin”, which discussed the opioid epidemic with addicts, family members, clinicians and government officials.  The information is riveting, with one man describing heroin addiction as a “quiet epidemic filled with shame” where people die alone over a toilet.  The documentary follows the lives of three individuals, and how heroin affected their lives.  I came across an article that looked at five key takeaways to help fight the opioid epidemic:

People are dying: Addiction is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming over 47,000 people in 2014 alone.  Heroin is the driving force of this epidemic, with over 10,000 deaths.  Frontline reporters stated that heroin use went up 14%, and is on the rise.

heroin

Two types of heroin

Painkillers add to the problem: The heroin epidemic started with the hospice movement around 30 years ago, with opioids becoming a consumer regimen.  Once somebody is addicted to painkillers, retaining the ability to get more becomes too expensive or difficult, leading people to use heroin.

There are numerous efforts to help addicts: From drug court to treatment to harm-reduction models, there have been plenty of efforts to help addicts get help.  Yet there are many pathways to recovery; one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.  Increasing the quality of life for those struggling with and recovering from addiction should be a priority.

Prison isn’t the answer: This isn’t a problem you can arrest your way out of.  Prison isn’t solving the problem or ending the epidemic, just putting a band-aid over a bullet wound.  Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs have been arising throughout the country, focusing on harm-reduction models and collaboration with law enforcement to help addicts find treatment.

Legislation needs to change: Drugs such as methadone, naltrexone and suboxone are helping thousands of recovering addicts reduce their cravings for heroin by blocking neuroreceptors.  Once these are blocked, the pleasure from heroin use is drastically diminished.  Yet these remain highly regulated medications due to their addictive nature.

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