Letter: Heroin creates devastating effects for communities

From: George Thieret


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people died from drug overdoses in the United States the last two years than any other year on record. In 2014, about a half-million people died from drug overdoses, and 61 percent of these were from opioid use. This phenomenon is fueled by the abuse of prescription pain medicine and the surge in illicit use of heroin. The city of Columbus has not evaded the scourge of this national epidemic.

Now that tighter controls are put on prescription drug dispensing, the arrest rate of heroin has shot up sixfold in the last two years in the city. I’m a registered nurse in Indianapolis who has seen the blight of drug abuse in my practice. Over the past year, I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to care for many overdoses at my facility, with nine out of 10 of these cases originating from southern counties and cities.

Many remember the heroin epidemic of the 1970s. Its devastating effects on inner cities at the time were without parallel until now. Heroin is the new old drug of choice for users and dealers. Heroin is typically injected but is also smoked or snorted. When people inject heroin, they are at risk of serious, long-term viral infections, such as HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B, and bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream and heart. The federal and state governments, with the backing of the Obama administration, have recognized that we are losing our communities from this epidemic.

Some of the implementations have been:

Providing educational training and resources to health care providers so they can make informed decisions and ensure the appropriate prescribing of opioid painkillers.

Developing prescribing guidelines for chronic pain.

Supporting the use of prescription drug monitoring programs (electronic databases that track the dispensing of certain drugs) as a routine part of clinical practice.

Increasing access to substance abuse treatment services.

Expanding use of medication-assisted treatment.

Supporting the development and distribution of the life-saving drug naloxone to reduce prescription opioid painkiller and heroin overdose deaths.

Supporting the research, development and approval of pain medications that are less prone to abuse.

Improving surveillance to better track trends, identify communities at risk and target prevention strategies.

Many would say that this is not a problem within this community, that we are immune to such big city problems. The ease at which heroin can be procured for use is as easy as walking to your local park. I’ve witnessed such transactions myself.

The community and its leaders need to recognize that this is not a problem among the poor or big cities. I have watched housewives, clergy, teenagers and professionals die from this widespread problem. Heroin use and abuse do not discriminate between the young and old, rich or poor, male or female. It kills without remorse, leaving behind wrecked communities and suffering loved ones.