Shooting Up

February 25, 2014

It was recently reported that 185 residents of Massachusetts had died from a heroin overdose. The 185 deaths did not include confirmed drug deaths in the state’s three largest cities, so the number is certainly off the mark.

Heroin has become the drug of choice here in the Bay State in large part because it is cheap ($ 7 a bag) and readily available. Police, EMTs and hospitals can’t keep up with the overdose epidemic and quick and comprehensive intervention is necessary.

Many of the survivors of the overdoses and those who continue to shoot up the drug cite the use initially of painkillers like Oxycontin as the gateway drug to a heroin high. With addiction firmly in place the stage is set for police cars and ambulances coming to a home to rescue someone who is near death.

Since many of these overdoses and deaths involved young people there will be those who ask the question, ” where were the family members, where were the friends, where were the loved ones when it was clear that the user was on drugs or his/her arms were black and blue from syringe use?”

Right now this is not the time for judgment or questions about family and friends responsibility. This heroin epidemic is in crisis mode and is now national in scope. Thankfully, government officials at all levels are now coming together to take aggressive measures not only in law enforcement but also in drug treatment and public education.

Some police departments now have a anti-overdose drug called Narcan that can postpone death by injecting the medication into the nose of the addict, but an immediate trip to the hospital is essential before the overdose claims another life.

In a perfect world it would be nice if young people would recognize the dangers of drugs and turn their energies elsewhere, but boredom, unemployment, ill-advised friendships, and the all to human desire to feel happy are just too powerful. We now live in a nation where getting high is mainstream, where alcohol is an everyday companion, where pill-taking is commonplace. We shouldn’t be surprised then that heroin use is on the rise. It is the next step up the addiction ladder.


December 17, 2009

In the last few weeks I have become an unanticipated expert on drug use among young people in my region of Massachusetts. I attended a drug forum at the local high school and heard from a long list of experts and parents on how drug use has escalated not only in numbers of addicts, but also  in the potency of the drugs being comsumed. Marijuana and alcohol seem to get the most attention and cause anxious parents nightmares, but heroin, Oxycontin and inhalants are the real dangers.

The tragedy of drug use by the young was brought home at the forum by a grandfather who watched his handsome, athletic grandson turn into a addict who would do anything to pay for his habit. Then there was the mother who watched her son slide back into drug use after rehab, only to overdose and die in his early twenties. The assistant principal of the high school told the audience that she had attended five funerals in the last few years of graduates who had died from their addiction.

Then a few days ago there was a rash of break-ins my town- a good friend had her home invaded and ransacked.  The police seem convinced that the robberies are being committed by someone likely looking for cash or goods to feed their habit. Drug habits are the cause of most of the petty crime in cities and towns, and the criminals are getting younger and younger.

What is astounding to me is the ease with which drugs of all kinds are readily available  and the high level of denial about drug use in most communities. Heroin, the most addictive drug, is just plain cheap; Oxycontin and other similar painkillers can be swiped out of a parent’s medicine cabinet and those spray cans that are used to clean the keys on a computer are now the inhalant of choice.

As with most of these forums on drugs or alcohol, the turnout was poor, although those in attendance seemed committed to get the community out of their complacency and take action. It will likely take more deaths to get the attention of those in denial.

The real sadness of drug use today by young people is that there is such a variety of addictive and deadly narcotics and so little understanding by users of the risks that they are taking. This is where parents, teachers and community leaders come in. We live at a time when death by overdose is mounting – in Massachusetts more people die from  overdoses then from car accidents. Drug use must be faced head on and all of us must make a special effort to protect our young people from those funerals.