The United States is facing a growing problem with heroin abuse. Heroin has been experiencing a surge in popularity in recent years, fueled in large part by a different problem–the growing numbers of Americans who are addicted to prescription pain medications.
Because many prescription pain meds are derived from the same unique poppy which is used to create heroin, addicts are somewhat able to switch back and forth between the drugs. Someone who is withdrawing from heroin may experience some relief by taking OxyContin or Percocet. By the same token, someone who has a prescription pain pill addiction can use heroin if unable to get a hold of (or to afford) more pills.
Many addicts have been switching from pain pills to heroin in recent years because heroin, despite being more dangerous, is much cheaper. A bag of heroin can sell at an average of anything from $4 to $15 depending on location. A single pill of the stronger prescription drugs can go for $50 to $80.
Since heroin abuse is a growing problem, with a growing number of deaths occurring from overdose in many urban areas, cities are having to become more clever in their attempts to deal with the situation. The problem is becoming more urgent as it also spreads beyond urban areas, into the suburbs and beyond. Heroin abuse is truly becoming an “everywhere” problem.
Government and health officials are trying new methods to deal with the difficulty, comparing notes with each other, and trying to build a more all-encompassing approach to this public health threat. There are a few different ideas being tried out currently:
EMPOWERING FIRST RESPONDERS
There is a substance called naloxone which, when administered promptly, can reverse a severe heroin overdose and save the person’s life when almost nothing else will. It can be put into a syringe –or for even easier administration, into a delivery system similar to an epi-pen. In either case, many city officials are now realizing that they need to make naloxone much more available to first responders. Maryland, for instance, has funded 10,000 doses of naloxone in the epi-pen form, to be distributed to cities throughout the state.
DRUG “TAKE-BACK” DAYS
Up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they have a surging number of deaths by heroin overdose each year, they are focusing more on getting drugs off the street by having city-wide “take back” days. These events are organized and supported by the Drug Enforcement Administation, which has offered aid in the crisis.
During the take-back days, people can empty their medicine cabinets of unused drugs. This takes a lot of prescription meds out of circulation from people who just don’t know how else to dispose of them. In just one take-back day held in Milwaukee in the fall of 2014, 17 tons of unused prescription meds were collected and removed from the possibility of abuse.
BETTER MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR ADDICTS
Maryland and New Jersey are among some of the states pushing for medical treatment for addicts, rather than legal penalties. These states are pushing for more beds in residential treatment centers (much more effective than outpatient treatment programs), and for health insurance companies to be required to cover the costs of addiction treatment.
TREATMENT FOR PRISONERS
In many cities in New Jersey and Maryland, there is an increased focus on treating inmates. It makes sense when considering the fact that the addicts are already in a residential program of a sort. There is also the fact that if an addict can truly get clean while incarcerated, he will be less likely to return to crime when released.