Updated: Feb 11
I bet if you're reading this article you know someone (directly or indirectly) who has died from a drug overdose recently. There is an opioid CRISIS on our streets! Heroin, fentanyl, OxyContin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and many more are all opioids. Opioids are substances primarily used for pain relief. Whether attained legally or illegally, these are highly addictive substances that are being abused, misused, and killing those we love.
I feel like this opioid crisis has taken a back seat in the media lately. This should be one of, if not THE major topic being discussed in our communities today. We need to educate ourselves on what this crisis is, how it happened, and how we can put an end to it. St. Louis, it is time we wake up and FIGHT BACK
Heroin Hits the Streets!
I grew up in South County and attended Lindbergh high school, graduating in 2010. After high school I started hearing about former classmates, or people I knew around South County, addicted to heroin and amphetamines. It is not like Lindbergh School District is a bad area, in fact it is one of the top school districts in the state, and the area does not have a high crime or poverty rate. I then found out that a close family member of mine, always a top student, had checked himself into rehab for heroin addiction. After that I felt like I was seeing or hearing about heroin addiction more and more, from attending college at UMSL in North County, to living in South City. Knowing people with loved ones addicted to the drug or having lost loved ones to the drug. I knew there was a problem.
Intelligence from the DEA St. Louis division states that heroin trafficking is a significant contributor to both the rising homicide numbers and the increasing prevalence of violent crime. The Greater St. Louis Area has experienced an explosive growth in heroin availability and purity, geographical presence, number of users, and overdose deaths. It seems like heroin is everywhere now in STL, but how, and most importantly why?
Controlled Prescription Drugs
Alright, so this is what happened. According to the DEA, high levels of controlled prescription drug (CPD) abuse are contributing to increased heroin use. After the 2010 reformulation of the commonly abused prescription opioid OxyContin®, which made it difficult to inhale or inject, some people who abused OxyContin® migrated to heroin for access to a potent injectable drug. This phenomenon is contributing to the increase in heroin use in the United States.
Ever have moderate to severe pain after a hospital visit? Then you probably received some type of pain medication like oxycodone, hydrocodone, or something similar. These types of prescription drugs are the most common to be abused and misused.
How common? In 2017, an estimated 3.2 million people (aged 12 or older) reported current misuse of pain relievers. 53% of nonmedical users (12 years or older) reported receiving the prescription drugs they most recently used “from a friend or relative for free.” Many abusers, when unable to obtain or afford these CPDs, begin using heroin, a cheaper alternative that offers similar physiological effects. Using heroin as an alternative to prescription opioids is dangerous enough, but now you have the risk of fentanyl coming into the mix.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Drug deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (which includes fentanyl) increased almost 47% from 2016 to 2017. In 2017 alone, drug overdose deaths were up 10% and close to half of those deaths were caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. So how is fentanyl coming into the mix with heroin and other drugs?
Distributors are now cutting heroin with fentanyl. The reason for this is because it's cheaper than heroin, and it's smaller, lighter, and easier to smuggle, therefore the distributors can make more money with less risk of getting caught. The reason why deaths from synthetic opioids are outpacing deaths from heroin, or other opioid drugs, is because it is impossible for buyers to know if they are getting drugs cut with fentanyl and they are overdosing. Sometimes the dealers don't even know if what they are selling has fentanyl in it. The fentanyl is usually added in at the distributor level.
Fentanyl is not the only synthetic opioid out there. There is carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, 3-methylfentanyl (four times as potent) furanylfentanyl and acrylfentanyl. These synthetic opioids are being funneled in from China and Mexico and are scaring the crap out of opioid users. They don't know if their heroin will be cut with fentanyl or their Xanax or OxyContin® will be substituted out for fentanyl.
Just this past year in St. Louis there were a number of tragedies related to fentanyl. A 1-year-old child lost his life after overdosing on fentanyl from consuming drugs his father intended to distribute. A man plead guilty to the fantanyl death of his infant daughter. There were also many overdoses and homicides related to fentanyl, but fortunately two leaders of a huge drug ring trafficking fentanyl here in St. Louis were sentenced, one for 10 years the other 15. Law enforcement realizes that they have to go after the distributors and big-time dealers if they want to make any kind of impact against this crisis, but the battle for the average person begins at home.
What can we do?
According to the Daily Wire, "The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have hit addicts and those struggling to stay sober particularly hard. Social distancing rules and fear of the virus have driven people to stay much more isolated from society and limited the typical tools for people struggling with addiction, such as sessions with therapists."
Check in on your family, friends, and neighbors. Make sure they know they have someone looking out for them, who cares about their well-being. Sit down and try to have dinner with your family (at least once a week) to talk about your day and really get a grasp on what is going on in your loved ones' lives. If the Jersey Shore crew can have dinner once a week then you can too! If you suspect someone you know is addicted to heroin, or other opioids, look for signs and encourage them to seek treatment, do not dismiss them. Educate yourself, and your loved ones, on drug abuse and what this crisis is.
How opioid addiction starts is usually abuse/misuse of controlled prescription drugs. If you are prescribed one of these opioid drugs do not be afraid to consult with your physician, it is not a crime to ask questions. Ask what is in the drug you're taking, question the dosage, discuss alternatives, have them be transparent with you. Do not give CPDs intended for your use to someone else. Keep your CPDs in a safe place, hidden from or out of reach of children. Parents, if your children are on any of these prescription drugs make sure you keep close eyes on them to prevent abuse/misuse and consult their physician if you are concerned. If you feel like you need help with addiction to CPDs, other opioids, a substance abuse problem in general, or know someone who does, then find a substance abuse treatment facility in your area.
It is time we FIGHT BACK St. Louisans, and the best way to do that is to start at home. We need to start taking control of our own lives. We need to be there for our own families and loved ones. Only then can we combat monsters like this opioid crisis. As Dr. Jordan Peterson says, "Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world."
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