Most of us have a phobia, whether it’s spiders, heights, clowns, or loud noises. For as long as I can remember, my phobia has been hardcore drugs. Maybe it’s the taboo nature surrounding them, or perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of “Drugs Inc.” on National Geographic. However, I can say that my phobia of hardcore drugs has made me extremely vigilant regarding their presence in society.
Just last month, I spotted a needle and syringe on a Worcester sidewalk while my boyfriend and I walked to our favorite breakfast place. It served as a cruel reminder of the issue of drug abuse across our nation. I’ve always noticed markings on arms or sunken-in eyes. I’ll never forget seeing the meth mouth of a Dunkin Donuts employee in a small town in Maine this past summer. She looked like someone out of the many documentaries I have watched. When I asked for a chocolate donut, she remarked how those were her daughter’s favorite. I smiled politely, paid for my order, and wondered what that little girl’s life must be like.
Perhaps it’s my fear of drugs that makes researching them so exciting. However, what’s not exciting is the fact that, according to The Boston Globe, in 2014, “More than 1,000 people died from overdoses of heroin and other opioids” in Massachusetts alone. Moreover, shocking statistics from U.S. News claim that, “The rate of heroin-related overdose deaths increased 286 percent between 2002 and 2013,” and, furthermore, “In 2002, 100 people per 100,000 were addicted to heroin but that number had doubled by 2013”.
After watching the first hour (which was frankly all I could handle), of the HBO documentary "Heroin Cape Cod," it’s obvious that, for a lot of users, heroin is not their first drug of choice. Rather, many users started with prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. When they run out, or simply cannot afford these drugs anymore, they switch to something cheaper, and, often, more accessible: heroin.
The need to get high becomes the sole purpose for living; nothing, not even family, can come between the user and the drug. Heartbreaking, terrifying, and concerning is the spread of heroin from cities to suburbia. According to The New York Times, 125 people die a day from drug overdoses in the United States, and 78 of those deaths are heroin related.
As the heroin epidemic progresses, so too do the measures against overdosing. Narcan, a drug used to reverse a heroin overdose, has saved many users. The issue? Many users take this for granted. One user in "Heroin Cape Cod" boasted of her near death experiences and praised the use of Narcan, claiming that she knew that paramedics would simply “bring me back” if she overdosed again.
While it is in everyone’s best interest to save lives, to what extent can we reinforce the behavior of users? What can be done to ensure that users will not take this for granted? While some have suggested clean needle dispensers, as well as legal injection sites for users, there needs to be a clear focus on a way to stop the spread of the epidemic. While safe injection sites are seeking to limit the number of overdoses a year, I can’t help but note that this, too, reinforces the behavior of users. Supervised injection does not stop the injection.
While it’s easy to sit back and critique from the outside, the main goal of this article is to inform. Sweeping issues such as drug abuse under the rug does not solve them. As with all important issues: we need to talk about it. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come within the past few decades in regards to discussing and bringing about issues such as gender equality. Although that conversation is far from over, we have made positive steps in the right direction. I believe that we can take positive steps in drug abuse awareness as well. Have the conversation, brainstorm ideas, and rally our representatives. The heroin epidemic is real, and it’s time we talked about it.