This past weekend National Public Radio (NPR) did a segment on heroin use in Marion, Ohio. The segments began with individuals talking about what was the idyllic town of Marion, Ohio, population 36,772. In its heyday Marion was a booming town where 80 percent of the nation’s steam shovel and heavy duty earth moving equipment was manufactured. Now Marion is facing a crisis of heroin use. Heroin use has cut a swath of death and destruction right through middle class white America.
Heroin use has become such a problem that last week the White House announced a new “Heroin Response Strategy,” to address the growing use of heroin in America. The policy initiative is meant to treat heroin use as a public health issue rather than strictly a law enforcement response to drug use. Unlike what happen to crack cocaine users in the early 1980s during this country’s “War on Drugs,” that most people now characterize as a failed policy of “War on (Certain) People,” new voices are urging a different strategy to deal with heroin use.
So what is heroin and where does it come from? Recently Al Jazeera News did a story on the ruby miners of Afghanistan. The story highlighted the risk being taken by people of the Hindu Kush Mountains to mine for rubies deep in the mountains. These rubies are often the lifeline for poor desperate people trying to make a living by pick axing into mountains in search of these precious jewels. These jewels are then sold to traders who make high profits. Some raw jewels that traders paid the poor miners as little as $500 for their mining efforts have resold for thousands of dollars, some as much as half a million, as they get traded to jewelers. But, mining for rubies is illegal leaving some poor Afghanistan families to turn to harvesting poppy fields. It is the poppy plant that produces a whitish sap that becomes morphine and then heroin. One website says that most of the heroin that makes its way into the U. S. comes from China. Whatever the source, heroin use in America is becoming epidemic.
The NPR story on Marion, Ohio revealed just how devastating heroin use has become in just this one small town. Hundreds have died from heroin overdoses. Crime is rampant due to heroin addicts stealing and robbing to support their habits. Families have been torn apart not only by the stress and dysfunction brought on by heroin users, but also because heroin users typically cannot function well enough to maintain their livelihoods. Even when a known strand of heroin leads to death, heroin users demand that same strand of heroin—some of it even named “death.” You can see and hear the story of Marion, Ohio by going to this link: http://www.npr.org/2015/08/23/433575293/ravages-of-heroin-addiction-haunt-friends-families-and-whole-towns.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, more than 8,000 Americans died of heroin-related overdoses in 2013 — nearly three times as many as died in 2010. According to the NPR story, the risk hasn’t dented demand. Heroin is cheap, abundant and accessible, and communities across the nation, from big cities to small rural towns, are struggling with the consequences.
So how do people get addicted to heroin knowing how dangerous its use is? According to the NPR story, people who were addicted to pain medication found heroin to be cheaper than prescription pain killers. One user switched from ecstasy to the painkiller OxyContin to heroin. One woman overdosed on heroin even though she had spent 2 ½ years in prison because of drugs and months in a rehab. The heroin addiction never released its grip on her life. This user died leaving behind a 13 year old, a 3 year old—and a twin sister who now cares for the 3 year old.
Marion, Ohio is typical small town America. The NPR story said that the Marion, Ohio police chief has responded to two and three heroin overdoses within an hour. The response team shows up with the drug Narcan to counteract heroin overdoses. Even bringing users back from the brink of death is not enough to stop repeat use of some particularly deadly strains of heroin. Users still walk around like zombies, stealing, lying, manipulating–doing whatever to get their next heroin fix.
Why people use drugs is the question. Why anyone would ever ingest a drug knowing its potential deadly effect is the question? What is happening in so many lives all across America, in middle class homes and families that is causing the current epidemic of heroin use? Remember crack cocaine and this nation’s response to what was believed to be a “poor inner city” problem? What is the difference between the response to the current heroin epidemic and crack cocaine? Whatever the response to the current heroin epidemic what will it take to stop people from using one of the most addictive drugs on earth?
Copyright 2015 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.