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Advertisement Combating the deadly heroin epidemic
by DJ Kauffman Correspondent · August 3rd, 2017


When one thinks of heroin, hippie war protesters on San Francisco street corners and Janis Joplin at Woodstock come to mind. "By the mid-1960s, the presence of US troops in Vietnam was being blamed for the increase in heroin on the streets. Some troops became addicted to heroin and brought the habit home, and others saw heroin trafficking as a way to make money. Some high-profile deaths started being seen as a result, like Janis Joplin, who died in Hollywood in 1970 of a heroin overdose." [narconon.org]

According to Cpl. James Hancox of the Marion Police Department, heroin addiction and deaths resulting from its abuse, are on the rise. He said the problem starts with the misuse of the centuries-old opium -- unripe (green) poppy pod, during an Opiate Addiction & Abuse Seminar at the Marion Library on Wednesday, July 26, from 6 to 7 p.m.

Historically, the use of heroin began as a recreational drug in China during the 5th Century. Today, opium's derivatives, like morphine, are used in emergency medicine and for pain relief for those suffering with injuries. And, it has a valid use, he said, but it has its dangers, too. For it can cause addiction, tolerance, and severe withdrawal (typically withdrawal can be traumatic but is rarely life-threatening).

Today, heroin's increase is due in part to doctors handing it out like candy in hospitals, where opiates are readily available and are most effective in treating trauma or painful injuries, Hancox said. But physicians are not solely responsible for the prescription drug increase, he said. Part of the problem is based on false reporting by a certain drug manufacturer, because the drugs were first promoted as being non-addictive.

Pharmaceutical companies make Codeine, Morphine, and synthetic opioids for pain, but these drugs cause the body's system to slow down. OxyContin, Percodan, and Percocet are equally dangerous if the treatment for pain continues for a long period of time, he said.

The opiate problem currently tops the Midwest charts and is on track to double in overdose cases from last year. "It started in Ohio, like a hurricane. We are in the storm now moving west." Interstates 80 and 35, are the arteries through the United States, and we are located in the crossroads, Hancox said. "We are on track to have more overdose cases." And "many of those caught in addiction end up dead from overdose, hepatitis, HIV, or staff infections" unless they receive recovery treatment.

Law enforcement is currently promoting prevention and wants to use its resources to target the individuals who are targeting area residents. They want to establish a dialog with the community, thereby promoting trust in officers while addressing the problem.

According to Hancox, there are reasons for the upswing in cases. If a user stops taking the drug, they get sick. One hundred or so addicts told him, it is like having the worse flu one could have. He said he started to realize heroin addicts continue to use the drug in order to avoid the sickness. "This is a big issue and is not an exaggeration."

With the increase in opiate addictions, the criminal subculture (coming from south of the border in Mexico), now produces more acres of poppy than marijuana. The opiates are manufactured in Mexico and sold as strong heroin. The current addiction-built culture in the U.S. encourages this, and the Chinese sell chemicals to the Mexicans, as well, he said.

In addition Hancox said, users sometimes need two or three grams per day, just to function and feel normal. After six or seven hours of being without it, they will need more just to keep "the sick off." Many times, they will "get a shot in the morning, after work, and once before they go to bed," Hancox said.

As an example, Hancox explained how opiate addiction ate away the life of a Rockwell engineer earning six figures, after he became addicted to prescription drugs after a back injury. Pretty soon he was getting sick, skipping work and stopped paying bills.

Also, three years ago, a first time heroin user died from an overdose. Hancox explained how the man's three-year-old daughter found him dead. It does not matter if it is the first, fifth, or hundredth time of using the drug, the person can die, because they do not know what they are getting, he said.

Heroin, which is derived from opium, is the most consumed street drug for narcotics abusers. Non-synthetic drugs are highly water soluble, and are typically consumed by snorting and smoking at first, Hancox said. Users will move toward intravenous use because the effects are felt more quickly. According to information on the screen, "heroin is three times more potent than morphine."

During the seminar, Hancox also talked about the effects of heroin use. As the "high" of it wears off, the side effects continue. A user will sleep for a long period of time, similar to the effects of codeine. He said most people he has encountered at overdose scenes are not coherent. And in a couple of days, they do not even remember him being there.

According to Hancox, the synthetic drug Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine, and 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin. A user never knows what is in the heroin, like Fentanyl. "Now we have an overdose problem."

"Fentanyl crosses the blood-brain barrier with ease. It binds to opioid receptors and floods the brain with dopamine, which creates intense euphoria but also slows the heart and depresses breathing. For most individuals, a lethal fentanyl dose is about 2 milligrams-an amount so minuscule that in a test tube it looks like a few grains of salt clinging to the glass. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger, making it about 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Crime labs keep auto injectors of naloxone, the lifesaving opioid receptor antagonist, within reach in case their personnel are accidentally exposed to synthetic opiates." [Underground labs in China are devising potent new opiates faster than authorities can respond; www.sciencemag.org]

Hancox explained how eleven SWAT officers became sick after exposure to heroin/fentanyl during a raid in Connecticut. They tossed a flash-bang grenade into an alleged stash house on Forrest Street. This kicked up powered fentanyl and heroin, thereby exposing the SWAT officers to substantial amounts of it. All of the officers needed treatment from the incident. "That is another scary consequence," he said.

In addition, he said another officer in Ohio put his hand on a powdery spot on a drive train while testing drugs he found in a disgusting pile in a car. The officer overdosed on Fentanyl after it was absorbed through his skin from touching it. "We are starting to not do field testing because of the dangers of it," he said.

An even more real and present dangerous drug has hit U.S. streets. It is known as Carfentanil. This analogue of Fentanyl is 20,000 times more potent, and one lethal grain of it can fit into the ear of Abraham Lincoln on a penny (Carfentanil is the most dangerous, Fentanyl is second, and heroin is least.)

"In the same way that fentanyl has been mixed into bags of heroin and caused a slew of deaths, Carfentanil is reaching the streets. The deadly opioid Carfentanil is now another drug that dealers are using to "cut" heroin in order to intensify its effect. [sobernation.com]

According to addictionresource.com, "If someone says a drug like heroin is "cut" with something, this means that different substances have been added to the mixture in an attempt to dilute it. One of the most dangerous things about heroin is that there's no sure way for a normal person to tell exactly what the drug may be cut with."

One hundred to 400 people may spend $70,000 for these drugs. Many times the addiction leads to other crimes, such as theft, forgery, burglary, robbery, financial fraud, EBT/food stamp fraud, pseudo ephedrine, Hancox said. And human traffic victims and prostitutes many times find themselves addicted to heroin.

According to Hancox, marijuana is a gateway drug. He said of those with the addiction he has talked with since 2013, all said they began their drug habits with it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a gateway drug (such as alcohol or marijuana), is one whose use is thought to lead to the use of and dependence on a harder drug (such as cocaine or heroin).

There are several things community members can do in helping stop opiate addiction, Hancox said. One is keeping track of medicines in bathroom cabinets at home and locking drugs away. Count medication regularly and keep drugs in more common areas, such as in kitchens, to help prevent theft.

Expired or empty containers should be safely discarded. There are Drug Drop Box locations at the Marion Police Department, the Cedar Rapids Police Department, the Linn County Sheriff's office, Mt. Vernon City Hall, Hiawatha Police Department and Lisbon City Hall.

In addition, 44 percent of doctors are registered to use the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP); these red flags prevent users from doctor shopping. And it was stated by an audience member how Narcan Nasal Spray is carried by law enforcement to administer it before emergency medical services arrive, he said. State law says anyone can get a prescription for Narcan, but they must go to a hospital after using it.

Several area agencies are available to the community, including ASAC, Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative, the Linn County Coalition and the Mission of Hope in Cedar Rapids. Law enforcement also encourages churches and schools to get involved. Hancox said it will take a huge team effort to combat the opiate problem.

Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict on YouTube will "definitely tug at your heart strings," someone said. Also, the book Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones, explains the issue in detail. Visit www.facebook.com/easterniowaheroininitiative, for more information.
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