The Methods of Prevention and Fix to Heroin Epidemic

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Heroin is a highly addictive opioid, and its use causes some very negative effects that extend beyond the user itself. Some of the medical and social consequences of heroin use include HIV/AIDS, crime, violence, family issues, workplace issues and many more. All of these things have a very negative impact on society and cost billions of dollars to the economy each year. Heroin use has been on the rise since 2006. Heroin is a lot easier to obtain and is cheaper than most prescription drugs which causing drug users to be more attracted to heroin. Today, the heroin epidemic is just as bad as it has ever been and it continues to get worse. To fix the high number of heroin related deaths, there must be better education on heroin and its side effects in schools.

According to Jaime Herndon, MS, “Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid drug, that attaches to receptors in the brain to release dopamine which is a substance in the brain that is known for making a person feel good” (Herndon). Herndon also states that as with most drug side effects, this release is only temporary, which leaves some people wanting more of the “good” feeling (Herndon). If a user were to use heroin over and over again,the brain would not naturally produce dopamine as it once did. This consequences in the person taking higher and more frequent doses of heroin in order to get the same level of happiness and pleasure. Heroin addiction often begins with drugs such as painkillers that are prescribed after surgeries. These pain relieving drugs provide a lot of the things that heroin does. If a person becomes addicted to these medications and can not get their hands on them anymore, they will often tend to illegal drugs such as heroin to achieve the same feeling that the legal medications provided. Because of this, it is hard for a user to stop using it.

Heroin has very intense effects making it very harmful to its user. The intensity of this drug is one of the main reasons it is so addictive. When someone is so tightly attached to heroin, they will start to feel sick when the substance is not in their system. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sweating, shaking, muscle aches, and restlessness among many more. The drug is known for its many short term side effects including nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, itchy skin, slow respiration, and a slowed heart rate. Heroin causes not only short term side effects but also long term effects as well including muscle weakness, depression, bad teeth, and weakening of the immune system amongst many more. Continued heroin use can lead to declining physical and mental health. If a user uses the drug it high amounts, they could possibly overdose leading to shortness of breath, coma, or even death.

Right now, there is little to no talk about the seriousness of heroin in schools which is a strong belief in which their are so many heroin users today (Horyniak). A solution to lessen the amount of heroin overdoses would be to require some form of education starting in elementary and up until college on what heroin is and how bad it can be for someone. If schools taught the youth about heroin then it could prevent them from becoming future heroin users which as a whole could substantially fix the number of heroin overdoses. The more schools that are required to teach about heroin; the more people will be educated on the topic causing the number of heroin users to decline overtime. When a person first uses heroin they do it without thinking or knowing how negatively it will impact their life (Woods). If a person is more educated on the issue of the side effects of heroin it could make them think twice before using it.

Some public schools in Maryland are finally improving their drug-education lessons and colleges are getting ready to start sessions for incoming students to comply with the Start Talking Maryland Act. The act, requires public schools to offer drug education that includes the dangers of heroin as early as third grade. The problem though is that the majority of schools in the United States do not participate in these type of programs which makes the youth uninformed about opioid drugs in general. If programs such as the Start Talking Maryland Act were implemented in every state in the United States health experts suggest that this would give each kid general knowledge on why you should not use heroin which would eventually lead to a steady decline in heroin overdoses over the coming years.

Another place that needs to bring more action to this problem is in prisons. A very small amount of prisons today have classes to help educate and treat incarcerated drug users which often causes them to go back to using their drug of choice once released (Williams). For over two decades, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has provided inmates the opportunity to take part in substance abuse treatment programs that make significant improvements not only to themselves but to their families and communities as well (Smith). Evidence shows that when a treatment program is properly organized and executed correctly there is a decline in relapsing, crime, and recidivism. “By using treatment programs the inmates level of education, employment when released, mental and physical conditions and their relationships with their family and those around them are significantly improved” (Smith). This would be extremely beneficial because not only does this improve the offenders life after prison, but also the society around would be much improved due to lower repeat offenders. Research has shown that drug abuse treatments can reduce drug use. According to Redonna Chandler of US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, a meta-analysis of 78 comparison group community-based drug treatment studies found treatment to be up to 1.8 times better in reducing drug use than the usual alternatives (Chandler). Bennett Fletcher, PhD, believes that the statistics previously mentioned prove that drug abuse treatment in jails indeed will reduce the recidivism rates of drug related charges. Fletcher says, “Individuals who participated in prison-based treatment followed by a community-based program post incarceration were 7 times more likely to be drug free and 3 times less likely to be arrested for drug charges than those not receiving treatment” (Fletcher).

There are many alternate solutions that help the number of fatal overdoses go down and one of them is the use of narcan (Naloxone), which is a narcotic that is administered through the nose and has the possibility to reverse the effects of overdose if administered on time. Because of its accessibility it is used by many police officers around the world as they are required to carry it. Everyday across the United States, thousands of people who overdose on heroin (or any opioids) are being revived by narcan.

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Many people around the world look at narcan as the miracle drug because it is so beneficial, and has no health risks. With this, health officials believe that narcan should be more accessible to people other than police officers and paramedics. Ambulance paramedics do carry narcan, but sometimes they do not get to the scene quick enough to administer the narcan in time to save the overdose victim. Another difficulty with this is that people with an overdose victim will often be hesitant to call emergency services to report an overdose, because they are fearful of catching drug charges.

According to pharmaceutical doctor Eliza Wheeler, “Nearly 27,000 lives have been saved as a result of Narcan kits given to friends and family to reverse opioid overdoses” (Wheeler). If relatives or people who are closely attached to a heroin user had narcan at hand, they could use it as a response to an overdose without having to rely on first responders to arrive to the scene. Katharine Seelye shared this story out of Portland, Oregon, “A woman in her 30’s was sitting in a car, shooting up heroin, when she overdosed. The man she was with called emergency services and they administered narcan, however it was too late as the man waited to long to make the call” (“Naloxone Saves Lives, but Is No Cure in Heroin Epidemic” ). Opioid overdose victims abruptly lose consciousness, so receiving narcan as soon as possible rather than waiting is crucial as it strongly increases the overdose victims chances of survival. Narcan is beneficial in helping the heroin epidemic however, it is not a complete solution which is why education on the heroin epidemic is more reasonable to help the problem as a whole.

There is a lot of opposition in the argument of Narcan as it has had unintended negative outcomes. People who do not agree with the use of Narcan say that it makes heroin users feel protected, which makes them think its okay to take risks of trying to obtain higher highs. People who are for the use of Narcan argue that the narcotic gives a user the chance to turn their lives around for the good by getting into treatment. Advocates also argue that there is no evidence that backs up the claim that the use of Narcan increases the use of heroin. Heroin overdoses are not responsible for more deaths than car accidents in most states. In response, lawmakers have passed laws making Narcan more accessible in states including Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana. Its availability shows society’s response to the heroin epidemic. Advocates support the idea that lawmakers in every state should pass the law to make Narcan more accessible. With this, heroin overdose numbers could go down in all states rather than just the three previously mentioned.

Katharine Seelye, of New York Times, and author of “Naloxone Saves Lives, but is no cure in the heroin epidemic”, says “Nonprofit organizations began distributing Narcan to opioid users in the mid-1990s, but most of the state laws making it more accessible have been enacted only in the past few years.” (Seelye). With this and good Samaritan laws it gives people immunity to those who call emergency services to report an overdose. As a result the odds are greatly increased that someone who overdoses will be rescued and given medical attention at the appropriate time rather than them dying or being arrested.

Narcan is not the only narcotic that can prevent heroin overdoses, but also methadone as well. Methadone is a narcotic that treats moderate to severe pain, and can also treat heroin addiction. Today, methadone is not in the majority of jails around the United States, which increases the chances of relapse once an inmate is released. When released from jail a large number of users will go back to using heroin due to the lack of treatment in jails (Anderson). Nora Volkow, MD, says “At 1-, 3-, 6-month follow up, patients who received methadone plus counseling were significantly less likely to use heroin or engage in criminal activity than those who received only counseling” (Volkow). This goes to show that there is a strong potential for methadone treatment for inmates with heroin addictions, unfortunately not many prisons have went with this approach. Connecticut is one of the only states that is involved in the methadone treatment program. It is one of the many solutions Connecticut has made to help inmates successfully enter society. Since methadone can possibly prevent an inmate from relapsing once released makes it an obvious solution to prevent the number of heroin users and overdoses once an inmate is released.

The only downside with putting methadone in jails is that many people who work in jails such as corrections officers, believe that the use of methadone will allow inmates to get high and replace their heroin addiction with another even though methadone is not near as harmful as heroin. Analysis has shown the cost-effectiveness of providing methadone to incarcerated drug users. Volkow states that on average, incarceration in the United States costs $22,000 per month, and that there is only a small amount of evidence that this strategy reduces drug use or drug-related recidivism rates for non violent drug offenders (Volkow). Volkow says, “By contrast, the average cost of methadone is $4000 per month, and treatment with methadone has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing drug use and drug crime post release” (Volkow). Timothy Williams, author of Opioid Users Are Filling Jails, Why Don’t Jails Treat Them?, says “Even though treatments like methadone are proven to reduce arrests and increase employment, jail workers say that it is simply too expensive to keep a steady supply of methadone in their jails” (Williams).

Heroin overdose remains to be a major contributor in heroin related deaths and disease. Over the past few years, only a small number of schools educate students on the effects of opioids like heroin. In order to fix the the heroin epidemic, there must be more schooling on opioids not only around the United States but around the world. Education on any topic is known to increase the general knowledge of society. This is why it is a strong belief that putting opioid education in schools will increase the knowledge of many people around the world which will result in a reduction of heroin users. Despite what critics have to say about narcan, you can’t really argue against it. Right now Narcan is arguably the most beneficial solution to aiding the heroin epidemic right now as it has already saved thousands of overdose victims and continues to do so. Narcan still needs to be more accessible to decrease the overdose deaths even more than they already are. Putting Narcan in the hands of the general public increases the odds that an overdose victim is saved. Waiting on emergency services is not always reliable as it can be a moment of time before they reach the overdose victim, this is why Narcan accessibility to anyone is a must. Lastly, methadone is known to be effective in reducing drug related recidivism and drug crime post incarceration, however critics against the narcotic so it is just too expensive to supply in every jail around the country.

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