22 Apr Local Communities and States Respond to Heroin Epidemic
Locations around the country are seeing increases in heroin use with repercussions including more overdose deaths, more new heroin addicts and more babies being born already addicted to drugs. The use of heroin, once thought to be an inner city problem, has expanded to include rural and suburban areas. No one is immune to the impact of this drug. In response, local communities are mounting defenses and preparing preventative measures. Hoping to curb the growing tide of heroin deaths and other consequences, local groups are fighting back.
Learning from the Experiences of Others
Some communities are taking advantage of recovering addicts who are eager to help. Many of those who have struggled with addiction, especially with heroin or the prescription narcotics that led them to heroin, want to give back. They are invited by local drug prevention programs to give talks and to answer questions to help inform and educate young people. For instance, in Dutchess County, New York, several forums have been scheduled for recovering heroin addicts to speak to audiences about their ordeals. Parents of addicts, some whose lives ended tragically, are also scheduled to share their experiences.
In Putnam County, New York, where officials have seen arrests for heroin possession rise by 300 percent over the last few years, local leaders have gathered to plan preventative and educational programs for young people. Included in the plans are shared experiences from former heroin addicts and people who have lost their loved ones to this addiction. The community event is addressing not just heroin, but also the risks of prescription painkiller abuse, which often leads to heroin use.
While many local communities hope to prevent young people from ever starting to abuse heroin and other narcotics, they are also planning for those already hooked. More communities are beginning to give training and access to naloxone to law enforcement officers and other emergency workers and first responders. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse a heroin overdose and save lives. When those on the front lines keep this medication on hand and know how to use it, they can save many lives. Overdosing on heroin is easy to do and some people accidentally take too much, even on the very first use.
While local organizations and leaders are planning and implementing prevention programs in an attempt to curb the use of heroin, state governments are making important moves as well. Seventeen states have already signed laws expanding the availability of naloxone to prevent heroin overdoses, for example. The laws should get more of this life-saving drug into the hands of emergency workers and others who work with heroin addicts.
Governors in some states are also trying to take control of the epidemic of heroin use by drawing attention to the issue. In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick recently declared a statewide public health emergency. With his public statement he also listed several initiatives to prevent heroin addiction and overdoses in the state. These include banning the most dangerous of prescription narcotic painkillers, giving first responders access to naloxone, a public health advisory to help educate the public about the epidemic, and an expanded council that will plan and present prevention programs throughout the state
These are just a few examples of how local communities and states around the country are attacking the heroin epidemic head on. The exploding use of heroin can be traced to the earlier epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Heroin is now common in many parts of the country and is not limited to one type of person or one kind of community. Everyone is at risk and prevention programs and life-saving measures, such as naloxone, have become crucially important.
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