America’s Failure to Address the Opioid Crisis


Shelby Simons, Co Editor-in-Chief

Personally, drug abuse treatment is a joke. It’s all about the drug and nothing for the problem that drove someone to wind up in their situation. When darkness comes and someone has no love to ward it off, chemical substitutes are tough to resist. The easiest way to describe the system is to think of it as being effective as telling a hungry person not to eat. Pour in the love first, show them how much they matter (and mean it or don’t bother), then try your “treatments” and see how much better the mind can defend itself against the addiction. The thing is, users have to want to live- to want to get better, and to want to heal, but it takes love to bring someone to that place.

When we hear people talking about the opioid crisis on the news, it’s so easy to “not me”. And loving an addict is tough. The war on drugs so often highlights overdoses. But years of drug use take their toll on a person’s body. It’s a nightmare that no parent should have to live.

Heroin is a dangerously addictive drug crafted from morphine. The opioid is a psychoactive substance taken from the resin of the seed pod of an opium poppy plant. The number of casualties in 2018 in young Americans (ages 15-24) to heroin and other illicit opioids was a whopping three thousand plus. Heroin overdoses and deaths have dramatically increased over the last decade, and this startling rise in cases is drawn back to the growing number of patients misusing prescription opioid pain relievers (an example being OxyContin and Vicodin). People who become addicted to the opioid will eventually switch to heroin because it’s a cheaper substance that produces similar effects.

Being a parent of an addict can invite stress and confusion. People from all backgrounds experience addiction, and it doesn’t care how old you are, how much money you make, or your skin color. It doesn’t matter. And even if someone has a great family structure and a healthy lifestyle, addiction can still come creeping in. And the earlier the user starts using illicit substances, the greater their chances of continuing increase. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many resources for parents of their struggling offspring, but suggests that parents focus on good communication. The key in a relationship with an addict is vital and immensely important. In developing good communication skills, parents can catch problems early, support positive behavior, and stay aware of what’s happening in their adolescent’s life.

Showing interest and concern is a great first step in assisting an addict. Instead of asking how your child got into their situation, instead acknowledge that it’s a difficult situation, and ask them if it confuses them. Never- ever- blame or accuse an addict. Such negative accusations will put more pressure on an addict, and regardless of their substance of choice, but they’ll most definitely stalk to their vice. They’ll begin to settle on the notion that punishment is what they crave, and will continue

to use opioids to push that pain away. So, younger people feel more comfortable bringing issues and situations to their parents when they know they’ll be listened to and not be accused.
Casey Schwartzmier, 20, wanted to get treatment for her heroin addiction. After issues with health insurance, which caused a delay in her departure date, she was finally able to pack her bags and attend rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, her story doesn’t end in the way people would hope. Instead, Casey’s boyfriend found his partner unconscious after overdosing next to her luggage. Casey’s mother, Michelle, sat by her side, her hands wrapped around her in fear and love, as doctors declared Casey brain dead.

Michelle remembers one of the first warning signs she wishes she’d picked up on. “When Casey first started using heroin, I found wrappers in her bedroom.” She’d brushed them off, mistaking them for candy wrappers. They were actually empty heroin distribution baggies, which are usually Hello Kitty! or other childish wrappings (to keep suspicious low).

“It’s been two years, and I still cry for my daughter every day.” Michelle confesses.

Three years after Casey’s tragic death, her story still continues to move the world. Those who have heard her story pray for not only an end to the stigma of addiction, but an end to addiction all together.

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances that can be abused, and is incredibly destructive. Many teenagers who are addicted to heroin may not be fully aware of the damage the drug can do to their body. The most common effects of heroin in teens are (1) infection by bloodborne pathogens, leading to conditions like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, (2) respiratory issues, most commonly pneumonia, and (3) complications from additives to heroin, which can cause blood clots to form in the arteries or veins, and allot it to travel to the heart, causing a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism.

Those are common issues with heroin abuse, no one experiences heroin addiction the same way as someone else. Understanding signs, symptoms, and side effects is very important- if not the number one- component to recovering, and helping an addict if possible.

Signs vary widely from person to person, more so on the mental side. Common behavioral symptoms are (1) stopping to care about personal hygiene, (2) sudden, unexplainable needs for money, (3) a sudden change in friend and hobbies, and a very important one in my opinion, (4) wearing long sleeves and pants during warm weather to hide injection site marks. Psychological signs are harder to identify than physical attributes, so things like (1) irritability and (2) bursts of euphoria, are usually brushed off as not a big deal. Though, if sudden, there these might be signs. Physical signs such as (1) weight loss, (2) itching (very likely sign of heroin abuse, and is usually at the injection site. This is a way of the brain saying that it needs more heroin), and (3) nausea and vomiting are easier to notice, and may help someone catch on to a possible heroin user.

Behavioral health centers are thought to be the perfect place to get clean, and for the most part, that’s correct. It’s a place usually away from towns or a large community, so a user doesn’t feel the urge to rush to their dealer. There’s enough staff to individualize proper care for each patient, and can be a beginning to a fresh start. But, if someone were to bring opioids into a tiny facility like this, and there was someone who wasn’t clean yet, that could cause big problems.

Going cold turkey feels like you’re going to die. Like tobacco addicts and alcoholics, if you took away someone’s ‘security blanket’, their body has to go through the process of learning to live without that safety. Your body will get weak, and sweat chills and fevers will begin to set in. No matter how much a user tries to fight off the temptations, your body now relies on that substance to function ‘properly’, and is going into an emergency. Users who try to go cold turkey usually end up returning to their vice.

Cold turkey is a quick method for those who want to quit using tobacco, alcohol, of drugs of any kind. This method takes away the use for drugs immediately, but comes with its fair share of risks. The term comes from the goosebumps people will get after they quit, looking like the skin of a cold turkey. Users will go cold turkey because they think it will be easier to stop taking the substance right away. They will make themselves believe that they won’t be tempted to use the substance of choice if they just get rid of it.

Going cold turkey isn’t the most effective method of quitting, though; especially those whose bodies have become dependent on the substance. Quitting too quickly can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and an even more powerful urge to continue using than previously.

In a study conducted in 2016, results showed that out of nearly 700 smokers with tobacco addiction, 49% of people who quit cold turkey were still off cigarettes a month later, compared to 39% of those who tapered off gradually. The effectiveness of going cold turkey varies from person-to-person, depending on what substance you’re trying to quit and your preferences. Research of quitting smoking is mixed, but some studies have found abrupt smoking to be more effective than the gradual reduction that is normally recommended.

Support is key. In another study, participants who quit using the cold turkey method reached out for some form of assistance. Those who attempt to go down the path of cold turkey on their own meet an unfortunate demise; only 3-5 out of 100 stay off of cigarettes long-term.

Quitting addictive substances such as heroin can be much harder to go cold turkey. Opioids and illicit substances can cause physical changes in the brain that lead to severe craving and withdrawal symptoms. Physical symptoms include (1) nausea and vomiting, (2) sweating, and (3) fast or slow heartbeat, to name a few. Alongside physical changes, mental changes include (1) anxiety, (2) paranoia, and (3) hallucinations and confusion. Again, the safety of quitting cold turkey depends on the substance an addict is used to. Getting off of cigarettes or alcohol may be safer to do on your own than heroin or methamphetamine. Quitting highly addictive drugs or a severe alcohol dependence can cause serious side effects, and in some cases, death. It’s better to be under the care of a professional substance abuse counselor at an addiction treatment center or a doctor.

Knowing what to say to someone you care about that’s struggling though drug addiction is challenging. If you’re like most people you mean well but don’t realize that some comments and statements cause more harm than good.

People struggling with addiction are often sensitive, emotional, and insecure about their illness, especially in early stages of recovery. As a result, it can be easy to hurt them without intending to cause such pain.

To keep such a thing from happening, it’s a good idea to get a deeper understanding of the underlying causes and effects of addiction. When understood correctly, addiction should be viewed as an injury to an individual, as opposed to an innate flaw or defect.

Recovery from drug addiction is not easy, but is doable. The best thing anyone can do to help is to offer your support, and encourage them to seek help if they are not already in the process of recovering. In the meantime, avoid offering advice, and instead suggest reaching out for professional help. Be encouraging and help them see their value as a human.

If someone is willing to seek help, the first thing they should do is seek guidance from a doctor, counselor, or an addiction specialist. A professional can help you assess the severity of your situation, and determine any next steps to take, and to find out if rehabilitation is even necessary.

Just one factor cannot predict if a person will become addicted to drugs or not. A combination of factors influences risk of addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater chance they take drugs will lead to addiction. Biology, environment, and genetic development are all important things to consider.

As with most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, treatment for drug addiction generally isn’t a golden ticket for a cure. However, addiction is treatable, and can be successfully done. People who are recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medications with behavioral therapy ensure the best chance for success for most patients. Treatment approaches tailored to each patient’s drug of choice and pattern, alongside any co-occurring medical, mental, and social struggles.

There are several points to remember, but the most important is what substance addiction actually is. Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, difficult to control, and can depict harmful consequences. Changes in the main occur overtime that challenge an addict’s personal self-control with their ability to resist intense urges to use their substance of choice. Most drugs will affect the brain’s reward circuit by flooding it with the chemical messenger known as dopamine. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable, but unhealthy, activities. These lead to people repeating that behavior over and over again.

The substance abuse epidemic is growing at an alarming rate, and we as a society need to spark these difficult conversations in order to bring change to our communities. Drug abuse is treatable. If we gave addicts the resources they need, instead of throwing them in jail, we could help more people get clean. Also, we need to understand that families of addicts are going though just as much of a struggle as the user. We need to have these uncomfortable talks, in hopes that our community will be safer for all of us.