Heroin is becoming a national concern, especially in Vermont. Over 12 years, the state has seen a 250 percent increase in residents seeking heroin treatment. Opiates in general are the problem, with a 770 percent increase in persons being seen for opiate addiction. The term opiate means any of the narcotic opioid alkaloids found as natural products in the opium poppy plant.
Opiates are causing more distress in the state than just addiction. It is reported that 80 percent of those incarcerated suffer from some type of opiate addiction and see their drug use as the reason for their imprisonment. Many users start with Oxycontin, which has been described as heroin in pill form. The Oxycontin are prescribed as pain relievers and then are crushed up to give a rush to the addict. Some Oxycontin addicts then turn to heroin, as it is a cheaper form of the thrill they seek.
Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin, explained in his address to the state that opiates are costing the government a pretty penny, as incarceration costs taxpayers around $1,120 a week. Compare that with the cost of treatment, at $123 per week and the decision to focus more on treatment over imprisonment is an obvious one. Shumlin said, “You do not have to be a math major to understand we can’t afford our current path.”
It is a concern that has been addressed by numerous states when looking at the bottom line of their respective budgets. Heroin used to be considered an issue reserved for the “big city,” but no longer, now that it has touched so many New England citizens. Shumlin spent most of his state address discussing this drug mentality.
Heroin is becoming a national concern and for good reason.
Researchers are saying that those physicians who incorporated pain levels in their consultations with patients, started to prescribe various pain killers. In turn, the patients either became addicted to the pills, or later turned to cheaper measures by buying heroin on the street. Through this practice, drug addicts were born. Compared to Vermont, opiate use in the U.S. as a whole has climbed 60 percent in the last decade. The national scourge has presented more than just the user, as the consequences of living on the wrong side of the law result in court dates and imprisonment.
The epidemic has been seen in mostly the medical type of sheep’s clothing, as the non-medical use of opiates has decreased slightly over the last decade. The statistics show that heroin is making a comeback in the sense that it is filling the gap for those who stop using other opiates or prescribed pain killers. Cities are reporting that those middle to high-income prescription abusers are turning to heroin as a cheaper substitution for their daily fix.
In Vermont, where educational and income levels are higher than the average state, this leads to a degradation of the residents and is a shortcoming of the way the US in general treats its addicts. Shumlin paints the picture very effectively – “It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state,” Shumlin continues to state an invisible bubble is rising and cornering the concern is an essential need to prevent a harmful epidemic. This visible consequence of drug abuse carries a heavy cost for state budgets.
In the San Fernando Valley in California, an organization called Because I Love You, (B.I.L.Y.), has been created to be a support for addicts and the families and friends affected by the heroin user. Once again, these are middle-class addicts, not the poor families of California. Dennis Poncher, the founder of B.I.L.Y., states, “Every 19 minutes someone dies from a heroin overdose in our country. It is one of the most easily accessible drugs for our youth in our nation today, and it is cheap and easy to come by in the Valley, too. We all need to come to grips with that.”
Heroin is becoming a national concern. When state budgets are broken over the backs of addicted opiate users, it may be time to address the addict by going to the source, rather than circling the wagons around those that can be incarcerated. It is time to look to treatment to stem the tide of heroin use in the country.
By Lisa M Pickering