Heroin addiction, deaths are at epidemic levels

Julia Simenz, Staff Writer

National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week was held in mid September. What this means to you may vary depending on whether you lost a family member or a friend, or if you are simply struggling yourself. Regardless of your connection, becoming educated on the crisis is important.

Heroin is a highly-addictive drug that is both the fastest-reacting painkiller and the most-abused. This opiate can be smoked, injected or snorted and functions much like morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from poppy plants.

The amount of short- and long-term effects that heroin has on the body are mind-blowing and can be overlooked by its users because of the euphoric feeling it causes. Using heroin can cause damage to various organs, including the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys and may lead to respiratory problems. Many users often inherit different diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C Virus, which typically occurs from sharing needles or other injection equipment.

An “epidemic” is defined as something that affects a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population at the same time. According to The New York Times, in the United States of America, heroin is currently the largest epidemic known to man. Deaths from drug overdoses rose 19 percent to 59,000, the most drastic annual fluctuation in American history.

Due to how long drug deaths take to certify, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are unable to calculate final numbers of deaths recorded until December this year, but numbers are predicted to increase substantially once again, according to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also inform us that drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 50.

The epidemic stems from a bad choice that can rapidly spiral into a life-threatening disease within the blink of an eye.

Nationally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that heroin is the most commonly abused between the ages of 18 and 27, which encompasses most college students. Although you may not hear of heroin being an issue in Madison, let alone Wisconsin, the epidemic is bigger than you might think. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, heroin addiction often begins from a person simply being prescribed opioids by their local doctor as a pain reliever.

In 2015, it was recorded that 63 percent of all heroin-related deaths in the state of Wisconsin stemmed from people who became addicted to prescribed opioids first. Once their prescription was complete, they transitioned to heroin due to easy access and similar highs.

Additionally, heroin and opioids have the capability to drive a person straight to addiction from their first high. This is the part that a lot of people fail to understand. Yes, taking drugs like heroin is a choice, and considered a terrible choice by many, but addiction is a battle within itself. People who are prescribed opioids legally don’t realize that once they are addicted and they lose their ability to legally obtain that prescription, they will be more likely resort to alternatives like heroin.

Once addicted, users have a hard time functioning on a day-to-day basis, and it quickly begins to manipulate the person, their actions, and their overall life.

The first step to eliminating the initial use of heroin is for doctors and hospitals to find a substitute to opioids as a form of pain relief.

A young boy who suffers through this epidemic once stated, “I wake up to hell every day. And I’ve got to be thankful (to just be alive).” Ben is a teenage boy who suffered an ACL injury playing varsity basketball in high school. He was prescribed painkillers to help him recover from the surgery. Unaware of his addictive personality, his growing dependency on opioids led him to an everyday battle.

I believe that this is one of the most important issues today and I strive to educate as many people as possible on it.

Something needs to be done nationwide, and it all starts with eliminating ignorance and educating the people around you. Nobody wakes up and chooses to be a heroin addict. If you see, hear, or know of someone abusing the drug, please say something.

We as a community can save our peers, fellow classmates, and other Madison community members by simply being aware and taking the time to educate others.

My deepest condolences go out to those suffering the loss of a loved one, or to those currently dancing with this devil itself. You can always overcome your obstacles, and I will stand with you and help you strive to do so. Keep fighting on.