Opioids in the Suburbs

By The Fix staff 01/22/18

With all the recent crackdowns on “pill mills” and pain clinics, heroin became an attractive alternative, luring users by offering easier availability and cheaper prices.

Houses on a suburban street.

The heroin epidemic is devastating families nationwide, regardless of ethnicity, social status, or income level. The opioid drug crisis is affecting everyone in every path of life. In recent studies, the average heroin user is now in their early to mid 20’s and comes from a suburban setting. If you haven’t noticed, addiction is everywhere today.

Addiction by definition is a chronic disease involving the brain’s reward centers, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. The American Society of Addiction Medicine also defines addiction as a compulsive psychological need for a habit forming substance, characterized by tolerance and a physical withdrawal that is experienced when use is discontinued.

Prescription Painkillers Are One Reason Heroin Has Made Its Way into the Suburbs

A common trend we are seeing with the current heroin problem is that the addiction starts with prescription opiate abuse. The effect on the brain and the feelings produced by prescription opiates and heroin is the same. With all the recent crackdowns on “pill mills” and pain clinics, heroin becomes an attractive alternative, luring users by offering easier availability and cheaper prices. Heroin is now a common replacement for any opioid-based drug. And when someone turns to “heroin,” they may actually be getting a substance that includes mixes such as Fentanyl or Carfentanil which are even more deadly. These two dangerous drugs are being sold as heroin, but no one really knows the exact ingredients in a heroin baggy, which is why it is often lethal.

When Heroin Becomes Deadly

The FDA must approve prescription pills so that means that each medication contains specific measurements of exact ingredients which are then labeled. Prescription painkillers are dangerous but they don’t have the same uncertainty as heroin when it comes to their ingredients. The overdose death tolls that are rising are from heroin batches that are mixed with substances like fentanyl. These are the overdoses that are making the current headlines. These cases also make clear that the chronic disease of addiction can affect any person in any walk of life.

The heroin problem in the suburbs has grown recently because during the 90’s-00’s prescription medication prescribing had little oversight and distribution was not well-regulated. Doctors were prescribing such large amounts of prescription opiates without having the knowledge of how addicting they can be, and also without knowing how great the risk for abuse was.

Suburbia’s Statistics

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, opioid use has skyrocketed in teens aged 12-17 in the past decade. 41% of people who are misusing opioids are obtaining pills from a friend or family member who has a prescription.

It is not necessarily that drug use in the suburbs is more prevalent, but moreso that it is now associated with bigger and more noticeable consequences. Inner cities have long been plagued by institutional violence and crime, and also drug problems. Now, levels of drug use are rising in smaller communities that do not typically have problems with crime.

When small towns experience high rates of overdoses, the public starts to notice. Smaller towns with tight knit communities have residents with loud voices and opinions when it comes to the opioid epidemic, and there have even been suggestions that the only reason this opioid drug epidemic is now in the headlines is because it is moving to areas of the country that are known to have more wealth. Where there is more wealth, there is more time and money to spend on advocacy and there should be more resources available to combat these problems. Many police task forces in suburban areas have noticed a significant increase in heroin overdoses and heroin-related crimes. Consequently they are now requesting warrants to go into the city jurisdictions to arrest heroin dealers because they want to stem the flow of drug problems coming from the city and affecting their local communities.

A popular new series on Netflix, Dope, gave a pretty accurate portrayal of the opioid epidemic in the suburbs. The second episode, titled “Once You See It, You Can Never Unsee It,” focused on the heroin crisis, specifically in Baltimore and surrounding areas. The episode was surprisingly accurate when it came to a first-hand look at the inner-city problem overflowing into the suburbs. Baltimore is known as the Heroin Capital of the Nation, but most other cities with heavy drug problems are experiencing the same situation with drugs moving into suburban communities. The opioid crisis is said to have cost Americans $78.5 billion

How Can We Combat the Drug Crisis?

Last year, it was reported that 64,000 lives were lost due to opioid overdose. The government declared a state of emergency concerning the epidemic earlier this year, but it has been unclear exactly how we as a country are going to solve this problem and end this epidemic. Obviously addiction treatment and drug rehabs are among the top suggestions for how to get people the help they need to overcome addiction.

Another large focus is education about the disease of addiction. The main three government agencies that are responsible for this task are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). The more the public is actively educated on addiction, the more knowledge is out there and the less stigma will be attached to having a substance use disorder and more people will be motivated to seek help.

There are a number of different government and private organizations that must all do what they can in order to aid in this fight. In the court systems, they are starting to come around to the fact that those who have drug or alcohol related offenses should be receiving treatment rather than jail time. Many government-run addiction treatment facilities are able to help people who have been referred by the court systems. Privately owned alcohol and drug addiction treatment centers offer scholarship programs for people who may not be able to afford treatment, which also helps those without insurance. Seeing numerous organizations come together to fight this overwhelming crisis is encouraging.

Stepping Sober Is at the Front Lines of the Battle Against the Opioid Crisis

A great example of an organization that knows what to do when it comes to combating the opioid crisis is Stepping Sober. By having relationships with many drug and alcohol treatment facilities throughout the country, Stepping Sober can point you in the right direction for individualized addiction help according to your specific needs.

So the next time you see the headlines in the media about heroin overdoses, keep in mind that someone struggling could be behind you in line at the grocery store or sitting next to you in the doctor’s office. Keep the lines of communication open with your family and friends, and let your loved ones that know having an addiction is not something to be ashamed about, but merely a sickness which requires proper treatment. To learn more about Stepping Sober’s addiction treatment options and to find the right care plan for you or a loved one, call anytime: (800) 518-5205.

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