The Heroin Epidemic

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We all know that the heroin epidemic is getting worse not better.  Thousands of young people and families are destroyed by this devastating addiction.  More than 700 people die from an overdose each year in New Jersey.

Heroin-Related Deaths in New Jersey 2004 to 2014

Earlier today I met with a young man who has first hand experience with the drug and the impact it has on people and their loved ones.  His name is Daniel Regan and he’s 25 years old and sober for the past five years.  His life was saved after six failed attempts in rehab when his mother Lynn chased him to California and found him in an abandoned hotel, homeless and hooked.

Lynn and DanielThe conversation with them this morning on my morning radio show on @NJ1015 was emotional and informative.  They offered insight and informed opinion that is very contrary to what you typically hear about how to get people off drugs.  Daniel talks about ‘root causes’ and Lynn discusses the perils of the ‘everybody wins’ culture.  The bottom line is that there are several things which are critical to stemming the epidemic which they discussed with the many callers joining the broadcast to share stories of their own addiction and that of their children.

After Daniel returned from rehab for the seventh and successful time, an organization was born around the kitchen table as mom and son struggled to figure out a way to help him stay sober in a non sober world.

One of the major issues facing us in New Jersey according to Daniel and his mom, is that the Affordable Care Act has eliminated so many opportunities by not allowing families needing help to search outside of health networks.  This eliminates dozens of potentially helpful providers for people in need.  The second issue is that there are only two addictions that are listed which will get a patient entry into a rehab because withdrawal can be deadly, alcohol and benzos.

There are parents, including one who called in today, who would give their drug addicted child alcohol on the way to rehab to guarantee admittance.  Can you even imagine the emotional and psychological struggle as a parent to have to ply your underage addict kid with booze in order to get them help for the real problem?  As Lynn aptly put it today, it would be like heading to the ER with a serious ailment but having to break your arm first in order to be seen.

The issue that really stuck with me was the fact that in rehab, patients are taken off of the street narcotic with a replacement drug such as methadone that prevents them from going through withdrawals.

Heroin Addiction Medications

Medical management is important in helping wean individuals off heroin by helping to reduce cravings and prevent future use. Some medications commonly prescribed to people addicted to heroin include:

  • Buprenorphine. As an opioid, buprenorphine interacts with the same receptors as heroin, though its effects are limited. This helps with withdrawal and cravings.
  • Methadone. Although stronger than buprenorphine, methadone essentially works in the same way. Methadone use is controversial because it can build up in the body if taken too often, making overdose more likely; it is also potentially addictive itself.
  • Naltrexone. Also used in treating alcoholism, naltrexone blocks opioid receptors. This reduces cravings and prevents heroin from having an effect when taken.
  • Suboxone. This is a combination of buprenorphine and naltrexone. This combination not only relieves withdrawal pain, but also inhibits the effects of heroin.

– AddictionCenter.com

The frustration on the part of Daniel and his mom as well as many of our callers was palpable.  

No wonder so many kids return almost immediately to the drug when they get out.  Parents who can ill afford the drug are out of luck when their child returns home.  And since the withdrawals were prevented during the supervised time in rehab, a few days after returning home many people experience the withdrawals at home, leading an overwhelming majority back to the streets to get their fix.

The immediate fix  it’s time to treat heroin as the killer drug that it is…to classify it differently and accept that the very act of taking heroin can kill you.  We need to break down the barriers between states so that more people can have access to treatment facilities based on what they need instead of what is covered. The free market can accomplish this by changing the standards which prevent you from shopping health insurance in another state.

The common solution of delivering Narcan may in fact be saving lives, but returning those same addicts to the revolving door of addition.  Awareness campaigns are useless, we’re all aware of the problem.  What we need are strong, tough political leaders to stand up and talk about root causes, mental stability and dealing with adversity.  

My main takeaway from today was that the culture works against people who may fall into the drug trap.  Over prescribing prescription meds, a push for casual marijuana use, which Daniel discusses as having worked against him and coping skills.  

From a government perspective, the millions being spent on rehabs are not being allocated properly.  It’s the time out of rehab that matters as addicts need to get their entire life back on track, from a mental perspective as the addiction is beyond just the physical drug.  At the end of our time together I mentioned to Daniel that I wished him well on his daily struggle.  He was quick to correct me.  His struggle is not daily.  He solved the long term problem by addressing the root causes that lead him down the path to addiction.  He’s back and has been sober for 5 year.  He’s so strong mentally and physically that he’s directing his energies toward pulling other addict of the road and getting them the real help they need.

Take a listen to my conversation with Daniel and Lynn Regan from my show on NJ101.5

What do you think?

If you have a problem and need help you can also send me a direct message on Twitter and I’ll be happy to introduce you to Daniel and his outstanding and necessary organization.  Or you can reach him directly through their website.

 

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