Heroin Epidemic Hits Frederick

Tim Rivard

All across the country, there is a serious epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse. Every year tens of thousands of people die. Regardless of age, sex, race, or economic status, these drugs kill indiscriminately, and the outbreak is getting worse.

Opioids are a class of drugs that bind to receptors in the brain, providing a “rush” or an intense euphoric sensation. Most opioids are legal with a prescription; these include oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, fentanyl and, of course, illegal drugs like heroin.

Most of the time, the addiction starts with a legitimate injury such as a car accident or a fall down the stairs. For serious injuries like these, the doctor will likely prescribe a powerful painkiller to help with recovery. However, these drugs are very potent and they are very easy to abuse. Sadly, for many addicts, this is how their problem starts.

Like most other drugs, once someone begins abusing opioids their body will develop a tolerance, meaning that more of the drug is required to achieve the same high. This is why overdosing is so dangerous; addicts are mostly guessing at their doses and often they take far too much. When someone overdoses they will display a number of symptoms including pinpoint pupils, weak pulse, loss of consciousness, turning blue,and gurgling sounds to name a few. This happens because the activation of opioid receptors in the brain results in inhibition of the central nervous system. When the amount of drugs exceeds the user’s capacity, the nervous system essentially shuts down; your body literally forgets to breathe.

Arguably the worst part of the opioid drug epidemic is the strength of the addiction. Once addicted, people physically cannot stop taking the drug or they will become violently ill. Known as withdrawal, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hot/cold sweats, trembling, muscle pain, insomnia and more. Addicts will stop at nothing to get their fix. When you are addicted to opioids, nothing else matters, not your family, not your job, and not your friends.

Fatalities from opioid overdoses are on the rise, increasing 400% between 1999 and 2010 in women and 237% in men. In 2015, 20,101 people died as a result of prescription painkiller abuse, with another 12,990 dying from heroin overdoses. In Frederick County the problem is just as bad; in 2012 there were 21 recorded overdoses in Frederick, so far in 2016 there have been 350. Luckily, many of these people have been saved by first responders using the drug naloxone, which if used in time, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by blocking the corresponding receptors in the brain. Many of the heroin overdoses are due to dealers lacing their heroin with more powerful drugs like fentanyl, which is used commercially as an elephant tranquilizer and is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

The most important thing for an addict to do is to get help, Rehab practices are improving rapidly. By refusing help, a user is putting his/her life in jeopardy.

According to Deputy Stocks, the heroin problem in Frederick county is just as bad as anywhere else and should not be taken lightly. He stresses that the best thing anyone can do is to get help, learn to recognize warning signs and take the necessary precautions to make sure you and your family remain safe. Stocks said “There is much more help available now than there used to be”.

It is more important than ever to be on the lookout for opioid abuse. Nobody ever plans to become a heroin addict, but once the problem starts, victims cannot fight it alone. Opioid addiction is not a problem limited to rural counties in the middle of nowhere, or to the inner city. It is right here, right now in Urbana affecting students.

An anonymous Urbana student describes the problem in heartbreaking detail, saying “I personally lost someone close to my to opioid addiction, and it is a horrible epidemic. They started by simply taking a few too many of their prescribed pain medication, and it didn’t take long for them to get addicted. It was really painful to watch them become so reliant on it, and to give up their job, school, and friends just so they could get another fix. They started stealing money to buy more, and when the they couldn’t get it, they would go through periods of withdrawal, and were constantly shaky, sweaty, irritable, and angry. I miss them every day, but I miss the old them. I’m not quite sure I miss the version of them that the drugs created.”

Do not let this happen to you, or anyone you love. Take the necessary steps to recognize, report and handle opioid addiction; doing so will save lives. If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin or other opioids, you can obviously call 911 (especially if someone is overdosing), you can call your local police department, or you can call one of the many heroin/drug crisis hotlines. All of these options can help get an addict the life saving treatment they need.