My cousin’s husband is a fireman-medic in Central Florida. He tells me that he spends most of his working hours administering Narcan to overdosed kids in their 20s.
Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, an opiate antidote, which rapidly blocks the effects of opiates. When taken in massive doses, opiates (including painkillers) can cause the user to stop breathing and die. If a person who’s overdosed is injected with Narcan, the opiates are immediately knocked out of their brains’ opiate receptors and the user quickly begins breathing again.
The most common route to the virtually inescapable trap of opiate addiction is via prescription painkillers, such as Percocet and oxycodone. Everyday people, recovering from routine surgeries or sports injuries can easily become addicted to the painkillers that they’ve been medically prescribed. These are expensive and difficult to obtain both legally and illegally. Meanwhile, heroin is available everywhere and is very cheap in its purest and most powerfully-addictive form. In 2012, an estimated 2.1 million people in the US suffered from substance use disorders related to opiate painkillers and an additional 467,000 had become full-blown heroin addicts. In 2014, the latter number had grown to 587,000 – and it’s on the rise.
The numbers are especially frightening when one considers that only 1 in 10 heroin addicts actively seeking treatment will succeed in beating their addictions.
Heroin addiction has little to do with the stereotypes of the 1960s and ’70s. It is not an “Inner City” problem associated with “ethnic minorities”. The crisis today is most often seen among middle class whites in suburban and rural America.
Opioid addiction is a chronic brain disease precipitated by fundamental, long-term changes to the structure and functioning of the brain. While the initial choice to use opioids may be voluntary, once opioid addiction develops, use is compulsive, not voluntary.
The neurological changes that produce opioid tolerance and physical addiction are well understood. Tolerance corrects itself within a period of weeks following cessation of use. By contrast, the neurological changes that cause addiction are wider ranging and much more complex and do not reverse themselves shortly after opioid use has ceased. These neurological changes often persist for extended lengths of time.
The uncontrollable drug consumption seen with opioid addiction is primarily driven by opioid cravings, which are typically the most persistent symptoms of opioid addiction. This persistence is attributable to the comparatively prolonged time required for the opioid-dependent brain to restore some degree of pre-disease normalcy. Patients may be vulnerable to drug cravings and relapse for months and even years after their last opioid use.
I watched several documentaries on this very pressing subject and I chose this one to show, although it doesn’t emphasize how criminalization is clearly impeding many from any hope of recovery from addiction and it is definitely causing more unnecessary deaths. Heroin is so ubiquitous, that addicts can usually maintain their addictions while in prison, without any interruption.
The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate. Although this program claims that most of the heroin that enters the US comes through Mexico, it fails to mention that 90% of the world’s heroin supply comes from Afghanistan. 15 years after the US invasion undid the work of the Taliban, who’d nearly obliterated heroin production prior to 2001, today 35% of Afghanistan’s legal GDP is derived from raw opium.
Opiates have been used as a weapon between nations for hundreds of years. If the situation in America seems epidemic, Russia has less than half the population of the United States and more than four times the number of heroin addicts.