By Kelsey Nevius
“It’s in every single county. It’s in our cities but it’s also in our wealthier suburbs. It’s in our small towns. There is no place in Ohio where you can hide from it.” Mike DeWine, the attorney general of Ohio, said when talking about heroin on the 60 Minutes story that recently aired, “Heroin in the Homeland.” When I first heard this, I thought it had to be unrealistic: no way could anyone from my small hometown or on my college campus be addicted to heroin. It sounds so far-fetched as it is, thinking that anyone you see walking down Cory Street heading to classes or passing by and waving to in your hometown could be addicted to heroin. But as I watched more and more of the story, it became a scary reality that I had no way of knowing if someone was an addict, and I knew nothing about the heroin epidemic that’s hitting so close to home.
It strikes me that, before this story, the heroin epidemic was something that I’d never been aware of before. Sure, I knew it existed, but becoming educated through this story gave me a whole new perspective on it. People don’t simply get addicted to heroin: instead, the heroin epidemic continues to spread because people are thrown into a vicious cycle. Most heroin users, according to the 60 Minutes story, start out by taking pain medication.
“In 2014, three quarters of a billion pain pills were prescribed by doctors in Ohio – nearly 65 pills for every man, woman and child in the state,” said Bill Whitaker, correspondent for the ‘Heroin in the Heartland’ story.
Because people get hooked on the feeling they get when on the medication, after they eventually get off of it, they want to feel the same way for a lesser amount of money and a bigger high. Because pain medications and heroin are similar in what they do to the brain, addicts turn to heroin when they can no longer afford the pills.
However, most addicts don’t know the truth about heroin. Heroin is very unique in the fact that there is no stigma for it. “Heroin has lost its stigma as a poisonous, back-alley drug,” said Whitaker. People who use heroin also don’t think of it as something that they could become addicted to or potentially die from either; most people who use and abuse it consider it a party drug.
Because it is viewed as a non-serious and non-lethal drug, it makes its targeted audience, teenagers and college students, even more susceptible to trying it and becoming addicted. High school students especially are taken advantage of, but families and parents don’t think the drug will have an influence on their lives. “All of these parents say they wanted to talk to us because too many other families are embarrassed, in denial about their kids’ heroin use,” said Whitaker. “These parents say the stigma and shame are compounding the epidemic.”
Though highly addictive and dangerous for one’s health, the epidemic still continues to spread. As it spreads, it also costs more and more people their health and even their lives. Especially in Ohio, the state I was born and raised in, it is a serious problem. Whitaker states that “Today, heroin overdoses take the lives of at least 23 people in Ohio every week. We were told many other heroin deaths go unreported.” Because of this severe addiction problem and eventual overdose problem, health services and hospitals everywhere are taking precautions. Even families are being taught what to do in case an addict overdoses: “The heroin problem in Ohio is so big, families and friends of addicts — not just health professionals — are being taught to administer Narcan (Naloxone), which is now available without a prescription,” said Whitaker. When families are becoming educated in order to save an addict’s life, people begin to realize how big the epidemic is here in Ohio.
Becoming educated about the heroin epidemic is being one step closer to solving it. Breaking down the stigma by talking about addictions and helping addicts before having to use drastic measures is also something that will have to take place, though it is hard to say how long it will take to fully help Ohio’s growing heroin epidemic.