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Halting The Heroin Epidemic

The mortality statistics for 2014 are in and the data pertaining to the opiate crisis is grim. We are seeing more increases across the United States for deaths related to opiate use. In 2014, there was a fourteen percent increase, making it clear that all attempts to stem the rising opiate tide have not been successful.

A popular writer and spokesperson for safe drug use practices such as needle exchange programs, Kenneth Anderson, recently wrote, “ I would really like to see the New York Times publishing a front-page piece called “How Not to Die When Using Heroin,” instead of dedicating more and more stories to slim correlation between traffic fatalities and opiate overdoses.”

He further stated that there is a huge need for government funded methadone programs across the United States. He referenced the Swiss model, which has proven results, showing sharp decreases in the mortality rate and the spread of infectious diseases since funding methadone programs. While the current hype about opiate overdoses and deaths are accurate, Anderson rues the fact that there is a lack of data from practical and studies solutions that can eradicate the opiate epidemic.

We are seeing premature deaths from opiate overdoses across the country, and no group is being affected as strongly as our youth. The numbers are clear, white millennials who are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five are driving these sharp increases. Zachary Siegel, a recovering heroin addict, states that to help this group, our programs need to be directed at them. In short, we need to learn them, their practices, and their habits.

Siegel states that the high numbers of millennial overdose deaths may be a result of the separation of class and geography. He has seen many younger adults discretely using opiates in suburban areas, in the parking lots of Burger King, in the bathrooms of Starbucks, and in their childhood home. He feels as though they are insulated from certain programs that could save their lives.

Programs like the syringe exchange are situated almost exclusively in urban areas. At these types of stations, you can receive clean needles, cookers, information aboutregular blood-borne diseases. In addition, those who run needle exchange programs show care and concern for opiate users, a class of people who are frequently marginalized in society.

He states that so many youths are dying from overdoses because they are not receiving these vital services and information. The stigma that is forcing opiate addicts into secrecy and the legal solutions that are shoving them into prison are sending them to the margins without information. While many agree with Siegel, others state that it is just as important to be prepared for overdoses.

Greg Scott, a harm-reduction researcher and sociology professor states that naloxone is the answer for keeping opiate addicts alive. He suggests that clinics and individuals get as much as possible, and share it with others who may be using or may be around you when you are using. He further states that using opiates in private places is too dangerous for users, and recommends using somewhere that is accessible to others.

“Train everyone you know how to know if you overdose, and how to give you naloxone. Work hard to save yourself from death by OD,” Scott stressed. While many agree with Siegel, others state that it is just as important to be prepared for overdoses.

In addition, there is some cultural unlearning that needs to take place. Most opiate overdoses are not rapid onset like many saw in Pulp Fiction and are instead slow and can look like an addict nodding off to sleep. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose is important, especially if you are mixing drugs. Mixing opiates with benzodiazepines such as Xanax are causing a rise in overdoses as well.

While this information is crucial, many believe that the largest problem facing opiate addicts is the stigma associated with using opioids. Many parents are protesting current practices because they push their children to the margins, where they died from unsafe opiate use practices. This has caused extensive support for Good Samaritan bills that grant immunities to those who phone in overdoses.

These bills will ensure that those who are holding drugs or paraphernalia won’t be arrested if they seek help for those who are overdosing. Not only will it help to cut back on overdoses, it will lessen the chances of friends abandoning overdosing friends. This, coupled with other support services can help to lower a number of fatal overdoses.

There is research that shows that the most effective public health method will be the creation of Safe Injection Facilities (SIFS). SIF’s provide a safe haven for opiate users to use drugs in a monitored environment. Most SIF’s have not seen any overdose deaths since they opened their doors. There is a widespread focus on the country to have such sites opened.

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