Heroin, for a long time, has been one of the most addictive street drugs available. With large numbers of users, a high rate of addiction, and a low rate of recovery, it is feared by many, but there is now a new reason to be fearful of the drug: it’s being laced and now has a higher rate of overdose.
What’s the scoop?
Lots of heroin that’s on the streets now is laced with Fentanyl, a drug that is commonly used in hospitals for acute pain control for procedures and post-operatively, but it is making heroin 50 to 100 times stronger, and even the most experienced drug users are overdosing due to the addition of this pain killer. In some areas, the heroin is labelled as having additives, and in other places, it is just being sold as heroin and the people purchasing the drug are not aware of the potentially deadly addition. Granted, one could make the argument that any time you are purchasing heroin to inject directly into your bloodstream you are taking potentially dangerous drug, which is a completely accurate description, but long-term users tend to know how much they can shoot and don’t commonly overdose. Adding in Fentanyl to that dose that long-term users take regularly, can lead to an immediate overdose.
Over a three month period, there were more than 50 deaths spreading over 3 states…and the numbers are rising. In the state of Rhode Island alone, there have been just shy of 100 deaths since the start of 2014 and more than 500 overdoses of this fatal heroin/Fentanyl mix treated by emergency personnel, to the point that now police are carrying Narcan (a quick acting antidote to opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, which can buy time to get a victim to an Emergency Department for further treatment.)
Why is this such a Public Health Crisis?
There are more and more people with prescription pill addictions, who are able to talk HCPs into prescriptions due to pain, or they are purchased over the internet, or off the street, and heroin is essentially a cheaper version of these pain pills. They are all opiates, and work very similarly on the body, but sadly, heroin tends to be cheaper and easier to get than prescription pills. So, the average heroin addict might be the middle class man in a suit next to you at the grocery store….not the homeless person you might assume to be a drug addict. With more and more people turning their prescription pill addiction into a heroin addiction, we have a problem on our hands, and when they start dying before they can even seek help due to a lethal mixture of heroin and Fentanyl that they are taking by accident, we have a huge problem on our hands. The deaths from heroin and other opiates has doubled over homicides in most cities and now that it is being more openly reported, we are all realizing it is a national problem that is hitting small towns as much as it is affecting cities.
If you, or someone you know has a drug addiction, be aware of the risk every time you (or your loved one) buys heroin, know there are places to get help: SAMHSA (substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), Recovery.org, and Narcotics Anonymous are some to start with, but you can also go to your HCP for help with addiction or a local emergency department, and for an immediate overdose, you should call your local emergency services (911 in the US).
Keep your eyes open, if you are a parent or if you suspect a friend or a loved one has an addiction. Talk about the risks, get help yourself on how to work with addiction (Nar Anon Group sessions can be a good start), and get on the road to recovery and prevent an untimely death from this toxic mixture of drugs.
Yours in Good Health