Without a doubt, marijuana has been enjoying its fair share of headlines of late what with Colorado and Washington having already legalized pot and other states—including Pennsylvania—possibly following suit. And all this with no interference from the federal government, despite its position that “marijuana is not a benign drug.” It is, though, the most commonly used drug in America.
Whether it’s actually a “gateway drug,”however, is hotly debated--but not so the exploding use of “meaner” heroin. Americans’ use of the drug actually doubled between 2007 and 2012 from 373,000 to 669,000—a figure that doesn’t include the homeless, incarcerated, and others difficult to track.
Such facts underscore the need for Red Ribbon Week, which takes place every October 23 to the 31st. Sponsored by the National Family Partnership since 1985, it is “the largest drug prevention program in the nation, reaching millions of young people.” Its mission is a drug-free America--but it has its work cut out for it.
For instance, that heroin has reached epidemic proportions is as true here in Pennsylvania as it is in the rest of the country. In fact, when it comes to usage, we come in third behind only California and Illinois. Indeed, right here in Montgomery County there were 40 heroin-related deaths last year, and 2011 wasn’t much better, coming in with 37 such deaths. Meanwhile, said Detective Matt Daywalt: “Most addicts fall in the age-range of late teens to those in their 40s.” That's because few survive into their 50s and beyond.
This highly addictive opiate is actually a depressant or “downer” that affects the brain’s pleasure zone and interferes with its perception of pain—a heady combination. It presents as a white to dark brown powder or tar-like substance and goes by a variety of names:
- Big H
- Brown sugar
And along with its many monikers, it’s deliverable in several ways, too. For instance, there’s injecting it into a vein (mainlining) or muscle or smoking it in a pipe, marijuana joint, or cigarette. It can also be snorted, even inhaled through a straw, aka “chasing the drug.”
What’s more, all it takes to become addicted is that very first hit with its “rush” that kicks in. The upshot over the long haul: total dependence and such devastating effects as collapsed veins, infected heart linings and valves, cellulitis, and liver disease.
Once completely hooked, says Montco’s Assistant Public Defender Hindi Kranzel, “It controls every single thing that they think, that they do, every action that they take. It’s their girlfriend, their boyfriend, their lover. … Heroin is their entire world.”
Moreover, about 20% of all crimes are related to drugs, including “easy grabs” of such items as cell phones, GPS units, and jewelry that can be easily traded for “H.”
Enter the innovative Montgomery County Drug Court Program offering participants “intensive help to fight their addictions.” The goal: a lifestyle change with a chance to earn a dismissal of charges or have court supervision terminated early. It’s by no means easily gained, however. Indeed, this voluntary program can last from 15 months to three years. As Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who presides over the drug treatment court, puts it: “You’re never going to recover from this disease unless you are constantly working on it. Priority number one, not family, not job, not relationship. Your disease and the treatment is the number one priority.”
Started back in 2006, about 130 people participate in the program at any given time. Best of all, only about 18% are ever re-arrested vs. 60% of those who don’t participate. Meanwhile, a further assist comes from the Habit OPCO Methadone Program. Via supervised treatments of methadone, a non-addictive opiate that blunts painful withdrawal symptoms, addicts have a better shot at a more normal life
And that’s all well and good, but it comes late in the game. Instead, your best bet right from the start is to be an in-the-know, positive role model. As is often said, we parents are the best drug abuse antidote around. Plus, say the sponsors of Red Ribbon Week, “Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t, yet only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.”
All the while, be vigilant, too. All stakeholders—parents, friends, relatives, and educators—must be on the look-out for the signs of heroin abuse. These include sudden changes in behavior, disorientation, periods of hyper-alertness and sudden nodding off. Lying can be another indicator, along with increased sleeping, worsening school/work performance, withdrawal, hostility and stealing.
In other words, be on it.