A dangerous increase in heroin overdoses is hitting close to home

By Caroline Chidester, ‘17 and Matthew Shepherd, ’19

In late September of this year, Columbus Public Health officials reported that there had been 27 heroin overdoses within a 24-hour time span. This August, there were 174 heroin overdoses over a span of six days in Cincinnati.

According to a study conducted by the Ohio Department of Health titled “2015 Ohio Drug Overdose Data: General Findings”, deaths due to heroin rose by more than 19 percent from 2014 to 2015, with 1,196 heroin-related deaths in 2014 and 1,424 in 2015.

The same study also demonstrates the unique lethality of heroin. According to the study, “heroin was involved in 46.7 percent of all overdose deaths.” This is more than twice the number of annual deaths by other hard drugs, such as cocaine.

The rapid increase of overdoses has caused many people to question the root of the rising issue.

Overpowered Opioid

While heroin itself is dangerous for its addictiveness and ability for people to overdose on relatively small amounts, another ingredient plays a large part in the danger of heroin use: Carfentanil.

Carfentanil is a type of synthetic opiate that falls under the same category as fentanyl.

According to Time Magazine, fentanyl “is a synthetic opioid so strong that just a few granules the size of grains of table salt can be lethal,” and “it’s 100 times deadlier than fentanyl, which itself is 30 to 50 times more lethal than heroin.”

In recent years, dealers and producers of heroin have begun lacing their products with this highly dangerous substance. They do this to give people that extra high, so they keep coming back. Like heroin, Carfentanil is highly addictive and deadly, but is able to cause these problems from a much smaller dosage.

Close to Home

For many, it seems as though the heroin epidemic is unconnected to their daily lives. They can go about their day and insist that it is happening in other places, and that it won’t directly affect them.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine believes that everyone is affected by the spike in overdoses in some way.

“There is no one group; everyone is affected. All races, all genders, all of them have been hit hard,” DeWine said. “We are losing eight to ten people a day to drug overdoses. More people are ending up in foster care, people are unable to find work, and even babies are becoming addicted.”

Prescription Addiction

DeWine believes that the issue with the increase of overdoeses could be attributed to pain medication abuse.

“When you [have] a real epidemic with pain meds, I think the reason you have the problem with that is that there’s a lot of pressure for doctors to treat pain,” DeWine said. “Companies are coming out with new pain meds that [are] much more addictive.”

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the abuse of opioid medications that are prescribed for the treatment of pain, such as Oxycotin, Vicodin and Demerol, have dramatically increased in recent years.”

Baaed on the possible correlation between perscription drugs and the overdoses, DeWine decided to take action.

Task Tackling

Under the direction of DeWine, a task force has been formed to combat the rising use of heroin in Ohio. Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Amy O’Grady leads this task force.

O’Grady believes that a strong community banding together is the best way to combat the heroin epidemic.

“One thing that can be done is assisting the Stand Coalition. If you read about them on social media, getting involved when appropriate can help,” O’Grady said. “Also, simply talking to your local dare D.A.R.E. officer can be a very beneficial step in the right direction.

Lucas*, an Upper Arlington high school drug user, has noticed other ways his friends have been getting over drug addictions.

“Every year a couple of my friends have been sent away. Some have come back, but I’ve noticed it’s been getting more popular in UA for parents to send their kids away to rehabilitation programs,” Lucas said. “The longer they’re gone the more it benefits them. I think the parents that do send their kids away have tried everything and most of the time it’s a last resort.”

Officer Jon Rice has noticed a smiliar occurance among heroin users.

“A lot of times when you’re addicted to a drug, or heroin in this case, they go to rehab,” Rice said. “In rehab they get off the drug, and as soon as they get out of rehab they relapse.”

Legal Consequences

Like all illegal substances, heroin comes with a certain set of consequences for those who have possession or intend to distribute the drug.

Jon Rice, the Upper Arlington High School resource officer, commentted on how policing has changed over the years.

“If we go to somewhere where someone has overdosed we treat it like a crime scene, like a murder or a manslaughter,” says Rice, “We want to go back to the dealer, because they’re lacing this stuff with some seriously dangerous drugs. It takes so little of these drugs in order to be fatal.”

At school, students face harsh punishments for possessing or distributing the drug.

“If a student comes with drugs or the tools to make them, we have to charge them, and it’s a felony,” Rice said.

According to the National Institute on Drug abuse, 23.6 percent high school seniors nationwide reported using illegal drugs in 2015.

Paula* appears to be a regular high school student, but she has been battling with drug addiction for years, and she’s not alone. She began abusing drugs around eighth grade, and found her drug use steadily increasing as she grew older. She attributes it to mental illness and the onslaught of peer pressure with entering high school.

“My only problems reside in my emotional disabilities. I am deeply depressed and have been since very young, I also suffer from acute anxiety and bipolar disorder,” Paula said. “In my own experience, my freshman year was when peer pressure was the worst and I think that attributed to some of the mental and emotional stresses that lead to use.”

High school drug user Paula believes that there are many factors that contribute to high school drug addiction.

“Both drugs’ availability and the sheer amount of students who have used and continue to use both drugs have a terrible influence on the younger students to start using,” Paula said.

       Heroin at Home

Not all repercussions are involved with the legal system. Heroin use can lead to significant damage among a user’s home and familial life. Rice and other drug enforcement officials have personal connections with the effects of heroin on a person’s family.

“I’ve personally met with families who had one, or even in one particularly sad case, both of their children addicted to heroin, and they just don’t know if the kid is going to be alive one more day,” Rice said. “I’ve been to funerals for kids who OD’d, and I think I’m bawling my eyes out more than the parents. They’ve been through so much, you can just see it on their faces. They’ve been lied to, cheated, and now have lost their kid.”

Drugs like heroin not only affects a person physically and mentally, but also financially, especially for those who actively use them.

“Drugs affect my life very negatively. While I’m not what I consider a heavy user, I still use 75 percent of my funds for various forms of drugs,” Paula said.

The negative effects heroin and drug use has on home life and financial stability is hard for both users and their family.

“I’ve watched my lifestyle completely destroy my mother. My father now has to take anxiety medication to relieve tremors in his hands from worrying about me. My siblings don’t even know I have a problem as they are all older than I am, and have not been in the house to witness it,” Paula said. “The worst part of this is, if I really wanted to stop all of this I could. But I can’t motivate myself to stop.”

Community Silence

High school student Paula admitted that the recent serious overdoses are not often talked about among drug users.

“Everyone tries to ignore what’s happening. If someone knows a person that died they’ll keep it hush as they likely use the same dealer or supplier as the person who died,” Paula said. “It’s never a good idea to let people know that you’re connected to the deaths, because people might stop buying or hanging out with you.”

Even though Paula rarely talks about the overdoses with her friends, she thinks that people should be conerned.

“The overdose issue was large enough without Carfentanil and I hate to think of all the deaths that this can cause, especially in my own community,” Paula said. “One milligram of Carfentanil is a deadly dose. This means a sprinkle of it in a dose of shot heroin can cause an overdose. Who wouldn’t be concerned about that?”

Upper Arlington drug user Lucas noticed the same thing.

“An article came out that there was a bad batch recently and we all texted each other to make sure it was no one we knew,” Lucas said. “Other than that no one really talked about it.”

The mentality within the drug community to not talk about serious matters can cause negative repercussions.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said that this mentality has changed since he was young.

“There has been a cultural change. When I was growing up, heroin was just a small subset within the city, people were scared of doing it,” DeWine said. “I think that people have lost their fear of it.”

Officer Jon Rice agrees that fear is what kept people from using it, and he tries to use that for others benifit.

“It’s almost like you beg and plead people, be very afraid to try this thing even once. I don’t know anyone who did heroin once and was able to just walk away from it,” Rice said. “When I was in high school, I was scared to death of that stuff. If I can instill that same fear in others, then I can help people.”

Kratom Craze

DEA’s attempt to ban kratom meets with public outrage

Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom, is a plant native to Southeast Asia. In the U.S., it’s commonly used to help those with heroin addictions.

The reason kratom is used to assist in recovering from addiction is its opioid-like qualities. By stimulating the same areas of the brain which heroin does, kratom helps addicts get through withdrawal and stay off of heroin and other opioids.

Recently, the DEA tried to ban kratom by placing it on the “Schedule One” list, which contains drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin. Schedule One drugs are drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

When the DEA announced its ban on kratom, the internet struck back with a wave of blog posts and articles against the DEA’s decision, expressing their belief that the drug did more good than bad, as it helps people recover from heroin. Writers also discussed how the drug hadn’t been shown to cause as much harm as other Schedule One drugs, and without kratom, recovering addicts may return to more dangerous drugs.

The DEA withdrew its ban on kratom on Oct. 12. Instead, they decided to allow for a public comment period which ended Dec. 1. Using these comments as well as input from organizations such as the FDA, the DEA will make a formal decision on the drug and how it should be scheduled.