Disturbing news comes out of Pennsylvania that should be a wake-up call for parents: The deadly drug heroin is more accessible and affordable for young people than beer.
Although most people would link heroin use with inner-city residency, many rural areas have noted that it’s gravitated to their communities. Overdose deaths have risen precipitously since 1990, when drug deaths in rural areas of the state were at one per 100,000 people. As of 2011, that figure became an alarming 13 deaths per 100,000 people.
A report on the situation issued on Sept. 23 by The Center for Rural Pennsylvania indicates that 80 percent of people who have used heroin first abused a prescription opioid painkiller such as oxycodone or Vicodin. Almost 3,000 Pennsylvania residents have died over the past five years because of abuse of heroin or other opioids.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that sales of opioid painkillers in the U.S. more than tripled from 1999 to 2010 and deaths involving opioids more than quadrupled.
“Heroin is cheaper and easier for young people to obtain than alcohol,” said State Senator Gene Yaw in a recent interview. Yaw, the Republican chairman of The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, later says in the article that a packet of heroin that delivers a high lasting up to five hours can cost as little as $5.
How Pennsylvania Is Fighting the Problem
The legal system has been the primary means of addressing this societal blight, which has increased criminal activity among users seeking to feed the addiction. Putting people behind bars hasn’t solved the problem.
There are bills in the works to attempt to reduce the explosion in heroin abuse. Suggested methods include:
- Developing a statewide prescription drug database to raise red flags for people who might have prescription opioid addiction or have been acquiring the drugs for illegal uses.
- Passing a “Good Samaritan” law to allow drug users to call for medical intervention for those who overdose without fear of arrest.
- Making naloxone, which can reverse an overdose of heroin, available to ambulance crews and possibly to families of addicted people.
Treatment Is Crucial
In a therapeutic practice in the state, several young people had entered treatment after facing disciplinary actions from parents or schools after heroin use was discovered. One was a marijuana dealer in his school who had graduated to heroin himself and then added it to his product line.
For this teen, dealing was a faster, easier way to make money than any other job he could have acquired. It wasn’t until he completed inpatient rehab that he realized the impact of his actions on his own life, as well as those of his family and the people who bought drugs from him.
Other families are paying attention and taking action as well. Not One More, a national non-profit organization, was created in 2012 to advocate, support and inform communities and families who struggle with the effects of drug abuse. Their mission statement reads:
“Our main purpose is to educate our families about the hazards of heroin and other drug abuse, so we guide our children to take a path, which is free of devastation, incarceration and death; to help those who may be struggling with addiction, to lift them to a place of recovery and peace. This will only be accomplished by working together with our city leaders, the media, social networking sites, and utilizing all available resources. We can be a role model for others in our country to follow, as we stand united, as a community, to say: ‘Not One More’ overdose. ‘Not One More’ lost spirit. ‘Not One More’ grieving heart.”