The Ohio Heroin Epidemic

by Isha Lele and Stephanie Zhou

As the war on drugs continues to surge all around America, a new narcotic has recirculated with even greater toxicity and addictive properties. Heroin, a highly addictive analgesic drug, is recorded to have been used by over 669,000 people in 2012. Ohio has become the center of this epidemic, with The Ohio Department of Health finding a record 2,482 people dying from drug-related deaths in 2014 alone: 1,177 of them involving heroin.

Similar to opium and morphine, heroin is made from the stem of the poppy plant. Beginning in the 1850s, the levels of opium addiction had been a major problem in the United States. Supposedly being a “non-addictive” substitute, morphine soon replaced the opium addiction, eventually outgrowing the record levels of opium users. Both problems gave way to an even more lethal solution. Heroin was first manufactured in 1898 by a pharmaceutical company in Germany, as a treatment for tuberculosis and the end to opium and morphine addictions. Since then, heroin death rates have skyrocketed and in 2016, it has been deemed a national epidemic. In its purest form, heroin is a fine white powder, but after becoming known as America’s #1 street drug, it usually has a grayish or brownish tone due to the laced additives. Heroin is most commonly injected, which creates another set of problems relating to sharing needles which can cause a widespread of infection and disease. Unlike marijuana, the highly addictive components of heroin lead to an extremely painful withdrawal, where most victims must slowly be weaned off of the drug instead of quitting completely.

Users of the life-threatening drug have historically been known to be people who were once prescription-drug abusers. Patients using prescription opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet later transitioned to heroin and stronger narcotics because of its cheapness and relatively easy accessibility. However, what’s most surprising about the epidemic is the new type of users heroin attracts: middle-class and wealthy teenagers. In total, about 17% of all teenagers are estimated to be using drugs, specifically marijuana and synthetic drugs which tend to act as gateway drugs to heroin and ecstasy. Stories of Andrew Frye, the 16 year old student at Green High School surfaced in April when he was found dead after overdosing from shooting up heroin with his mom in a Super 8 Motel. His friends and family’s descriptions of him being “extremely generous” and having “a heart of gold” prove that any person can easily get hooked and have their life destroyed.

Although this problem has become increasingly worse, there are multiple treatments and new rehabilitation facilities that are working together to fight back against the heroin epidemic. Studies have shown that the most successful method of treatment is a series of medications to slowly wean the victim off of the opioid drug. These medications are developed to have the same opioid receptors as the addictive drug, but is less likely to produce harmful human behaviors such as violent mood swings and bipolar emotions. Effective medications such as Methadone, Buprenorphine and Naltrexone have all been known to eliminate or greatly decrease the patient’s addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

The New Beginnings Rehab facility in Piketon, Ohio, has seen the largest increase of heroin victims since opening in 2004. In 2010, their memorial wall, remembering the victims of heroin or opioids overdose just had 50 names, but now, that number has increased to over 3000 names. Facilities such as this one have opened all across the nation, hoping to find some peace in the battle against heroin. This national epidemic has not only taken the lives of many, but it has become our nation’s most pressing health problems and Ohio is in the center of the solution.