After the high-profile death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, the growing epidemic of heroin overdoses in the U.S. has been mentioned by many political leaders in important settings. Famously, the governor of Vermont Peter Shumlin devoted an entire speech to his state’s escalating addiction to the drug. Just last month, the director of the National Drug Control Policy Office at the White House announced a plea to police and fire departments to begin training employees to administer naloxone, an overdose-reversing medication for heroin cases. Now, following in line, the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, has called the rising cases of overdoses and addiction an “urgent public health crisis,” seconding the call for the use of naloxone.
There have already been a total of seventeen states, in addition to the District of Colombia, who have changed state laws so that there can be an increase in naloxone use. Holder said that naloxone is responsible for reversing more than 10,000 potential overdoses since 2001. Naloxone acts as a blocking force that can help the patient to begin breathing and reverse other side effects.
Naloxone is not a big enough bright side to make an optimistic story out of the current relationship America has with heroin use. From 2006 to 2010, overdoses resulting in fatality have increased by a shocking 45 percent. There were 3,038 deaths from heroin overdose reported in 2010, and although that was the last year this data has been confirmed, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that it believes those figures are not slowing down, but are on the rise.
Many, including the DEA, believe that the increase in heroin-use is a direct cause of the increasingly large amount of Americans who are taking and becoming addicted to prescription pain killers, specifically opiate-based medications. The most common prescription opiate is oxycodone.
Addiction to heroin usually results from a patient using these pain killers over a period of time, at the end of which they develop a tolerance to the pills they are taking and are forced to look for opiates in heroin. Another reason is that heroin is much cheaper than prescription drugs so it becomes an easier high for addicts to obtain. The rising demand has also contributed to a rise in trafficking along the Mexican border, although the areas of the United States that are being reported as hit hardest by this epidemic are in the northeast, specifically Vermont.
Holder said that when taking on a problem like drug abuse it “makes sense to focus attention on the most dangerous types of drugs.” He added that there are few substances more deadly than heroin and prescription opiates to the United States right now.
There has been a federal crackdown, with a 320 percent increase in the total amount of heroin seized by the U.S. government at the Mexican border. Officials are still worried however, because this increase may simply be a result of more heroin being smuggled, rather than more effective confiscation techniques.
Holder’s statements, which called heroin a national crisis, will further the public’s awareness of the ongoing heroin epidemic and influence more states to consider the use of naloxone.
By Nick Manai