During my youthful “Mini-Purple Haze,” marijuana was everywhere, hashish was occasionally available and the exotic jezebel – cocaine – was supposedly available only on the local Native American reservation. But heroin? Heroin was safely on Saturn: it was a big-city ghetto drug consumed by ravaged junkies and $5 whores on a collision course with death soon…very soon. The AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s dramatically reduced the use of heroin due to users’ fear of contracting AIDS/HIV through injections. So heroin usage, even among hardcore inner-city addicts, went the way of whalebone corsets; didn’t it? No, it didn’t. Decades later, I’ve been stunned to read of multiple local heroin seizures and arrests, even in a small, remote town. The recent tragic deaths of celebrities Cory Monteith and Philip Seymour Hoffman show that heroin is not peculiarly invading this small town; heroin is now a national epidemic. Cory Monteith, a 31-year-old star of the successful TV series, “Glee,” was found dead of a heroin/alcohol overdose on July 13, 2013. More recently, 46-year-old Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor of immense depth and talent, was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose on February 2, 2014. Even if we did not realize the problem’s gravity from these prominent deaths, sheer numbers support the “epidemic” theory: the Department of Health and Human Services states that the number of U. S. heroin users leaped 80% between 2007 and 2012; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserts that heroin overdose deaths rose 55% between 2000 and 2010; and the Drug Enforcement Agency claims that seizures of heroin smuggled from Mexico to the United States leaped 232% between 2008 and 2012. Experts find that heroin has spread across and into every corner of the United States, often with deadly results.
Why is this happening? Why the lethal heroin boom? Ironically, the War on Drugs is partially responsible for the rapid rise of heroin as a drug of choice. Aiming to reduce the abuse of prescription painkillers, governmental, enforcement and pharmaceutical authorities have made prescription opioids such as oxycodone pills more expensive, less accessible and harder to crush and snort. In desperation, some prescription painkiller addicts have turned to a less expensive, more accessible and easily crushed/snorted alternative: heroin. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services reports that approximately 80% of new heroin users formerly used prescription painkillers. These new heroin users begin by smoking or snorting heroin, and then sometimes “graduate” to injecting it for a quick, intense high. Other causes of heroin’s rapidly increasing usage are the improvements and boost in production of the drug in Mexico and Latin America, making the drug plentiful and potent. Yet another reason for the high incidence of fatal overdosing is heroin’s variable purity and common mixture with other drugs: experts state that a packet of heroin can vary in purity from 6% or lower to 50% or higher and can be cut with various other drugs as heroin packets are prepared, so heroin users routinely play chemical roulette in which they literally do not know whether they will have a disappointingly poor high or an overdose. A final component of heroin’s deadly impact is its mixture with other drugs such as Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate which is 10 to 100 times more potent than morphine. In sum, heroin’s lethal boom among younger, more affluent users results from its lower expense, higher accessibility, higher volume, amenability to crushing/snorting/injecting, higher-and-variable potency and mixture with other drugs.
What can be done to combat this deadly epidemic? Lawmakers are working to combat the “overdose aspect” of the heroin crisis: more than 16 states have or are adopting a “Good Samaritan” Law protecting people from criminal prosecution if they call 911 to report an overdose; some states have or are adopting a bill increasing access to Naloxone, a drug capable of reversing heroin/opioid overdoses, by empowering doctors to write general prescriptions for naloxone training organizations that can distribute the potentially life-saving drug to people who take a required training course. In addition, many sources provide more traditional sources of drug/alcohol helplines and treatment: the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, for example, provides multiple sources of help here:http://adai.uw.edu/hotlines.htm#treatment the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also maintains services here http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/ and a 24-hour Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (TTY: 1-800-487-4889). These measures are at least theoretically comprehensive, literally saving an overdosing individual, provided he/she is not alone, and offering further help, treatment and rehabilitation.
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.