May 13, 2014 Tami Scott Uncategorized
Thirty-four stories on heroin-related incidents have made local news headlines on
In next week’s Messenger, read more on the personal accounts of two young men, one from Baldwinsville and one from Liverpool, who are addicted to heroin.
Syracuse.com alone since 2010. Occurrences are on the rise; this year’s article count is already at 14.
Heroin has made a comeback.
Nearly 100 people gathered May 7 at the East Area YMCA in Fayetteville for a community forum called “Fighting Heroin.” Sponsored by the Y’s Healthy Living program, the meeting was called to address the ever-increasing concerns of heroin addiction and overdose with which Central New York families are currently struggling. A panel comprised of law enforcement officials, physicians, healthcare professionals and one local mom who recently lost her 19-year-old daughter to heroin, all spoke.
“It is an epidemic,” said Maureen Wopperer, an East Area/YMCA board member and Healthy Living committee chair who acted as moderator during the two-hour session. “The national recovery rate for heroin addiction, for opiate addiction, is 5 percent. That’s a very, very small number. This epidemic is affecting people from all walks of life. No matter their education, job status, family, economic status — it’s affecting everybody.”
Heroin seizures have increased 67 percent in the last five years, said Investigator Randy Andrews of the DeWitt Police Department, and in 2011, more than 2,000 New Yorkers died from heroin overdoses. Locally in Onondaga County, two people died in 2010 from heroin-related overdose. In 2013, that number increased to 26.
“Heroin is being used by every age group, every income. This is not a poor drug; this is not a rich drug. This is a non-discriminating drug,” Andrews said. “Between 1995 and 2002, the number of teens in America ages 12 to 17 who used heroin at some point in their lives increased by 300 percent.”
Heroin no longer has to be injected. It can be snorted, sniffed, smoked or swallowed in pill form.
“And this is the biggest thing that took the stigma away in suburbia,” Andrews said.
From Jan. 1, 2013 to April 23, 2014, there were three deaths and eight reported overdoses in the town of Manlius, a community with a population of approximately 32,000.
“We’re a very small community,” said Manlius Police Officer Angela Palmer. “That’s 11 known for this year.
Much of the addiction blame is pointed at doctors who overprescribe painkillers, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. These opiates, which are in the same family as heroin, are used to treat patients for pain caused by injuries. But when the injury heals and the scripts abruptly stop, those who have become drug dependent will seek heroin because the effects approximate the opiate that was legally prescribed. It’s common for teens to access opiates, too, because they are often readily available to steal from their parents’ or others’ unlocked medicine cabinets.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 6.8 million Americans abuse opiates. Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin have become harder and more expensive to obtain in recent years. In 2010, Oxycontin changed its formula to make the pill harder to crush and dissolve, and, therefore, abuse. For many people who become addicted to opiates via prescription pills, heroin is cheaper, easier to find and gives the user a more powerful high, said Andrews.
“Drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin affect the brain the same way that heroin does,” Andrews said. “So when they’re having withdrawal from not getting their Vicodin or whatever drug they use, they turn to whatever they can get to obtain that same kind of high. And heroin fills that void.”
It’s hard for people to imagine an addiction so strong they’re willing to risk their lives, but Dr. Brian Johnson, director of addiction psychiatry at Upstate Medical University, explained why.
“You know that feeling you get in your heart when you’re in love? That’s how I feel on oxycodone,” said Johnson quoting a patient. He described many users to be inherently vulnerable, shy and anxious. Addicts celebrate heroin and opioids for the euphoria they feel when high while still remaining fully functional for work, school and life in general.
Heroin is particularly dangerous because even a first-time user may become addicted and brain chemistry could be altered after just one hit. According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, receptors for heroin are located in many areas of the brain, particularly those involved in perception of pain and reward. This means that people who inject heroin feel a sense of euphoria almost instantly, and feel no pain or discomfort.
Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain in a couple of ways. One result is tolerance, in which more of the drug is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Another result is dependence, characterized by the need to continue use of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
“It gradually disables the various brain systems of the [user] so you get more and more pain, more depression, more anxiety. But every time you inject that heroin, you feel better,” Johnson said. “And you’re so severely punished if you go into a period of abstinence. It hurts. Everything hurts. You feel terrible. You feel emotionally vulnerable.”
Symptoms from withdrawal occur 24 to 48 hours after an addict stops use and they can last for weeks. Anxiety levels increase, insomnia kicks in, they can’t eat, there’s vomiting, diarrhea, hot and cold sweats. Some people report their bones feel broken; they can’t walk. Addicts will tell you it feels worse than death.
And so the cycle continues.
Eagle Bulletin Editor Allie Wenner contributed to this article.