Heroin: The Worst Drug Overdose Epidemic in United States History

Maureen MurdockAddiction19 Comments

Graph of increase in heroin deaths and overdoses

Addiction to heroin, and deaths from heroin overdoses has gained much needed attention from the public, legislators and law enforcement. Why?

Nearly 90% of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white. Deaths from heroin use rose to 8,260 in 2013, quadruple that of 2000. New Hampshire is one of the hardest hit states; it has seen a 68% increase in opioid overdoses from 2013, prompting parents who never would have suspected their children of using heroin to demand a change in law enforcement and legislation so that users get treatment rather than incarceration.

When 20-year old Courtney Griffin was using heroin, she lied, disappeared and stole from her parents to support her $400/day habit. Her family kept her addiction secret until she was found dead last year of an overdose. Now her parents are activists in the fight to treat substance abuse. Her father, Doug Griffin says that politicians and law enforcement are paying more attention now. “I work with 100 people every day—parents, people in recovery, addicts—who are invading the statehouse, doing everything we can to make as much noise as we can to try to save these kids.”

Last week, President Obama traveled to West Virginia, a predominantly white state with high levels of overdoses to discuss his $133 million plan to expand access for treatment and prevention programs. This new approach to drug abuse is a welcome move yet there is great injustice in the fact that it has only become a front burner issue since white parents have gotten involved.

Michael Botticelli, the nation’s drug czar admits that the demographic of people affect by the drug epidemic are white middle class parents who “know how to call a legislator, know how to get angry with their insurance company, know how to advocate. They have been so instrumental in changing the conversation.”

Unfortunately, this more compassionate approach is coming late for the scores of African Americans locked up for decades for drug possession or use. Kimberle´Williams Crenshaw, who specializes in issues of race at UCLA and Columbia law schools, said “one cannot help notice that had this compassion existed for African Americans caught up in addiction and the behavior it produces, the devastating impact of incarceration upon entire communities would never have happened.”

As a result of this new approach 32 states have passed “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from prosecution for low-level offenses if they call 911 to report an overdose. And almost all states have made it easier for EMTs, family members and friends to obtain and administer naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.

Parents, police and treatment providers are taking the “stigma” out of drug use, avoiding words such as “addict” or “junkie” and instead using terms that convey a chronic illness, like “substance use disorder.”

In October, 750 groups converged on Washington to bring their demands for treatment and they are collaborating to create a national organization, Facing Addiction, devoted to fighting the disease of addiction on the scale of the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. The fight to end drug addiction can be as successful as the fight to end AIDs.

19 Comments on “Heroin: The Worst Drug Overdose Epidemic in United States History”

  1. Does anyone know the statistics (from 2001 to present) on the relationship of big pharma and the heroine epidemic (the easy path from prescription opiates to heroine and a guaranteed market for profits to big pharma)? — J

  2. Thanks for bringing the epidemic to light, Maureen. I know many families, including my own, that has had to deal with heroin addiction and its devastation. The attachment to feeling good through an artificial means is all too common with alcohol or even marijuana, but with far less disastrous effects on family and friend relationships, job, and other responsibilities. But I also appreciate how you show the different ways that this issue is treated in black and white communities and the (typically) unequal burden placed on African American communities in relation to drug use and abuse–and incarceration.

  3. So those with the power may finally be able to make this epidemic a part of history. Hope so. Gayle King made the same point as yours this morning on CBSThisMorning show :”Is this finally getting attention because these kids are white?” It’s a sad thing, but I’m pleased so many are talking about it: drugs, race, police violence. Can’t change anything unless we talk. Glad you are part of the conversation, Maureen, and sad for your family’s involvement!

  4. Once again such interesting info and facts you have put together in your blog.I have learned so much from you, Maureen.Our daughter lives in New Hampshire–what a surprise to read about their heroin problems–it truly is shocking to me.So much sadness in the world–thanks for all you do.

  5. Thank you, Maureen, and thank you especially for as always being so attentive to the damage done to those who have simply endured the pain of the prison system because of drugs. Would that our attention to the real issues had come sooner–before we destroyed so many individuals, families and communities. I ought not to complain; at least people are beginning to notice. But as someone who works with the children of too many parents incarcerated because of drugs–kids who have lived without their parents and who have endured stigma, shame and silencing–I can’t help but feel angry at all the years we as a society paid no attention. So appreciate your words, and your wisdom.

      1. Our website is popstheclub.com. We are also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The best way to hear the story is through the kids’ voices themselves, and our kids’ work is on the website and in annual anthologies, the most recent of which is called Ghetto By the Sea and is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble–the links are available on our website.

  6. How frank, concerned, and sincere you are, Maureen. Indeed it is a harrowing epidemic that speaks so strongly about our culture. In admiration, and looking forward to tonight, Cheryle

    Cheryle Van Scoy http://www.cherylevanscoy.com Sent from my iPhone

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  7. Another aspect of the changing attitudes in this country about incarceration. But so sad for the families and the youth that are attracted to this scourge. How do we prevent that?

    1. Good question. Programs like the Mysteries program at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA and AHA in Santa Barbara that are addressing the challenges of adolescence that make some young people want to numb out.

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