Heroin: The Plague Sweeping Our Nation

Last week I wrote an article concerning the current state of affairs of the toll that chemical substances are having on our Nation, State, and, most specifically our Valley region. In this article I will be concentrating on Heroin and the current dangers of this illicit substance toward our society.

When we in the Addictions Profession first learned of the rise of Opioid use, most particularly Heroin use, and overdoses many years back, we were sometimes accused of being ones who were “crying wolf” or exaggerating the problems. We often thought of ourselves as “lone voices crying out into the wilderness,” in our prevention and treatment efforts.

Within the last two years, however, our predictions have come to fruition…we are indeed in dire societal trouble with the rapid onset and rise of Heroin use and overdoses (now numbering more than 15,000 individuals per year) on the drug; and the majority of our citizenry through lack of action are not even aware of it nor seem to care. Our nations mental health is being affected most seriously.

As most of you are aware, Heroin is a synthesized drug derived from the Scarlet Poppy plant; the secretion from the plants bulb. The history of use of the secretion goes back some 3,400 years to Mesopotamia, now known as the Middle East. The secretion of the plant was first used in liquid form, boiled down, for its depressant, sedation affects; and as a “cure all” for many physical conditions and maladies.

Since that time it has been eaten, smoked, and injected for its affects throughout the world. It was not until the year 1837 chemists of the Bayer Pharmaceutical Company in Germany, working with the synthesized compounds of the poppy secretion, morphine and codeine, further broke down the chemicals into what they termed “Heroisch,” Heroin…meaning “heroic and strong.” Its chemical name today is tetra acetyl morphine. It was totally assumed at the time that Heroin was discovered that it would take the place of Morphine for medicinal purposes, which was widely known for its addictive qualities.

Heroin at that time was also perceived as being a “non-addictive” drug.

In the year 1898 Heroin was introduced into the United States by the Bayer Company, marketed as Heroin, and began use primarily with children as a cough suppressant and for “easing breathing,” particularly those children suffering from the effects of Tuberculosis which was one of the top three causes of death at that time. It continued to be sold over-the-counter until 1914, when the U.S. Government began regulating it, with the passage of the Harrison Act.

Ten years later, in 1924, with the passage of the Heroin Act the drug was made completely illegal, even for medical reasons.

It eventually became listed as a Schedule 1 Drug; a drug substance that is highly addictive and is dangerous to use.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the addiction to Heroin began to grow, plaguing mostly of those in the “lower classes” of our society; although it has been noted that there were affluent peoples also addicted to the substance. In New York City the numbers of those so addicted began to grow at an alarming rate.

In the 1920s those so addicted in the City began to collect junk, scrap metal for sale to support their habit, and became known as “junkies;” a name still being used to this date nationwide.

In a very recent study conducted by Dr. Simon Packard and Associates at the University of Illinois-Chicago, concerned with the rising rates and consequences of Heroin use and the societal economic cost of Heroin in the United States; it is pointed out, and echoing other current studies, that “Heroin use in the United States has reached epidemic proportions.

From 2000 to 2013, the number of heroin users doubled, from 1 per 1000 individuals to 1 per 2000 individuals; reaching its highest levels in the past 20 years.” According to data given by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Heroin- related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010. From 2014 to 2015 heroin overdose death rates jumped about 21 percent, with almost 13,000 people dying in 2015. For the first time in our history this number exceeds the number of alcohol related traffic accidents which has been about 10,000 annually.

Not only are human lives lost of great concern, the societal cost of heroin use in dollars exceeds $51 billion per year in the United States. Dr. Packard, in a closing statement concerning his study relates: “Without meaningful public health efforts, the number of heroin users is likely to continue to grow; the downstream effects of heroin use, such as the spread of infectious diseases and increased incarceration due to actions associate with heroin use, compounded by their associated costs would continue to increase the societal burden of heroin use disorder.”

It is my belief, coupled with my education and lengthy experience as an Addiction Professional, that we as a society must really put forth our best efforts in combating the most serious problem of heroin use and its associated problems; and most specifically the “slaughter” of our youth….it most assuredly is affecting our Nations mental health.

If more time, money, and personal effort were to be placed on this most serious of problem then we may make some headway. Heroin use disorders and Heroin overdoses are not a “victimless crime…” it affects someone’s daughter or son, siblings, a parent or grand-parent, an aunt or uncle, a very close friend, ad infinum. We must insure there is interdiction of the Heroin coming into our country.

We must provide our youth with good values and education concerning this most important societal issue. We must insure that meaningful and quality treatment is provided for the person with a heroin use disorder.

I encourage all of you to become involved…help our youth in any way you can to help them develop the virtues of being good and doing good… write or call your Representatives and Senators and let them know your concerns…to spread the word…to help those in need…to become involved.

As General Chappie James once said, and I heard him say it in person those many years ago, “If you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem!” Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!