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Heroin Use Increases Nationally

Professionals from rehabilitation and emergency care discuss the risks associated with the drug and how addicts are getting help.

Ninety-percent of all heroin addicts who get clean relapse within the first two years, and most of them in the first six months following treatment.

Photo: James Gardner (Flickr)

Ninety-percent of all heroin addicts who get clean relapse within the first two years, and most of them in the first six months following treatment.

By Lacy Scarmana

Heroin use is increasing nation-wide and Indiana is no exception. Today’s Noon Edition dealt with the increased potency of the drug and how health care providers are struggling to combat addiction.

Deaths from heroin overdoses have increased by 45 percent over the past eight years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When heroin was gaining popularity in the United States during the 1970’s, the drug’s purity was about 30 to 40 percent. Now, heroin bought off the streets has a purity of 60 to 90 percent.

Jennifer Fillmore, Project Manager at Centerstone, a community mental health center that offers substance abuse treatment, says the stronger heroin increases the risk of both addiction and overdose.

She says there are no visible indications of a particular batch’s purity, so each dose has an unknown strength.

“Anyone can be addicted to heroin,” she says. “It’s very easy to get, it’s very cheap and the high is pretty awesome for a lot of people because it blocks the pain pathways in your brain.”

As appealing as the temporary high may be, the withdrawal process can be equally excruciating, which makes quitting the drug easier said than done.

“Expecting someone just to stop using heroin on their own is unrealistic because physically they’re going to be craving that and people get really sick,” Fillmore says.

Treatment facilities that provide a way for addicts to detox are the most effective way to wean someone off the drug. Then, outpatient treatment at places like Centerstone can provide additional help.

Dr. Kevin Moore, an emergency medicine physician at IU Health Bloomington Hospital, says he treats heroin overdoses often and witnesses an average of four heroin deaths per year.

“People come in with decreased mental status and decreased respiration,” Dr. Moore says. “They basically lose their airway or stop breathing, and that’s how they die eventually.”

He says laws prevent hospital staff from reporting a patient’s drug use to the police, but they can make recommendations for drug addiction treatment.

“We have in the emergency department 24-hour access to people who are trained in psychiatric issues as well as drug issues who can evaluate with the people in the emergency department and provide them with referrals if necessary or admission if required,” Dr. Moore says.

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