An unprecedented epidemic requires novel approaches, if the United States is ever going to rein in the prescription opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic that has brought hundreds of thousands Americans to their knees in despair—and thousands to their death. In 2014, 18,893 people lost their lives due to prescription opioid overdoses, and another 10,574 overdose deaths were linked to heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With such staggering statistics it may come as little surprise that overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. In that same year, over two million Americans met the criteria for having an opioid use disorder.
There are two sides to the American opioid epidemic. On one hand it is crucial that researchers and addiction experts pinpoint the causes that led to the opioid problem that became so dire; while on the other hand it is crucial that addiction professionals continue to do the good work they have done for decades in helping those in the grips of addiction and seeking recovery.
It is no secret that the opioid scourge has been driven largely by over a decade of over-reliance and overprescribing of opioid pain medications. Subsequent efforts to combat rampant over prescribing and widespread unused medication diversion throughout the country, by way of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) and prescription drug take-back campaigns had an unintended, albeit hardly unsurprising, consequence in the form of heroin use.
Here’s the rub, both lawmakers and doctors can make it next to impossible to acquire prescription opioids, and people will still find a way to get their hands on an opioid of some kind—such as heroin. If steps are not taken to advance and expand addiction treatment resources, simply making it harder to acquire a drug does not mean that the dependence and addiction will fade away. Opioid withdrawal is extremely unpleasant; most addicts will do whatever it takes to avoid the symptoms that accompany it—even if that means doing a drug that that one often says they would never use.
Over the last few years the nation has seen a dramatic rise in heroin use among people from all walks of life, the opioid epidemic has shown us that everyone is eligible. Historically, the idea that we could arrest our way out of addiction has been the status quo, despite the fact that it is widely accepted that incarceration does little to stifle addiction. Unlike the crack epidemic in the 1980’s and the heroin scourge in New York in the late 1960’s which affected people of ethnic descent or those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum—today’s prescription painkiller and heroin crisis in the United States crosses the stereotypical boundaries of previous drug epidemics in this country.
The majority of today’s heroin users began down the perilous road of opioid addiction with prescription pain medications. People from all age groups, ethnic background and various social strata have turned to heroin for three reasons, the drug is:
- Easier to Acquire
- Less Expensive
- Often Times More Potent
Heroin is Schedule I narcotic, meaning, it is a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Unlike, drugs like OxyContin (oxycodone), which are classified as Schedule II and are legal to have with a prescription, heroin is illegal across the board. Those caught with heroin, at least traditionally, were at risk of jail time. Thus beginning a cycle of drug use, incarceration, release, relapse and recidivism. In the wake of the opioid epidemic we face, both lawmakers and law enforcement understand that how they once handled addiction did not work and thinking outside the box is required for stemming the tide of opioid addiction in this country.
Just over a year ago, a police chief in Massachusetts started a program in Gloucester that encouraged those who were addicted to opioids to go to a police station and surrender their drugs; in return, they would be given access to substance use disorder treatment services instead of handcuffs, NPR reports. Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), or so-called “Angel Program,” has made multiple headlines and has been widely hailed as a success. Now, a year later, 400 people have taken advantage of the program, and more than 100 police departments in the U.S. have developed similar programs modeled on of the Angel Program. “We had to stop trying to arrest our way out of this problem,” said Campanello.
“We’re an entity that — right, wrong or indifferent — has a very loud voice in this right now and that people seem to be paying attention. Our job is to lend that voice to people who are suffering from this disease and their support groups.”
Recovery is Not Impossible, It’s Necessary
Opioid addiction is deadly disease that claims over 70 lives a day in the United States alone. Failing to access addiction treatment services, usually results in dire outcomes. Those who want to break the cycle of addiction and are willing to take certain steps to bring that to fruition, can do so with the guidance of those who walked the path before them. Recovery begins with reaching out out for help. At Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat, we offer a full continuum of care including: Acute Medical Detoxification, Rehabilitation, Residential, Partial Hospitalization and Recovery Residences.
Please contact HVRC & Sage Retreat 866.273.0868 to begin the journey of recovery.