A couple of years ago I sat down with District Attorney Eric Linhardt to discuss the growing heroin epidemic in our county. Last week we sat down on our Webb Weekly Live episode to discuss the issue again. You see, the epidemic is still growing and city and county officials, along with the good people at the Bald Eagle Project are working together to find ways to stem the problem by getting offenders into treatment programs as soon as they possibly can.
Sitting down with Mr. Linhardt reminded me that there can never be too much information made available about heroin and its effects on people and our community. So I took another look at the first article I wrote about heroin and am reiterating some of things I learned then that are still valuable to all of us today.
What is heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. It is a “downer” or depressant that affects the brain’s pleasure systems and interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pain.
Short-term effects include a surge of pleasurable sensation or ‘rush’, dry mouth, a heavy feeling in the extremities, suppression of pain, depressed respiration and may be accompanied by nausea and itching. After the initial rush, users will be lethargic for a few hours, mental function is clouded, the heartbeat – as well as breathing slow – which can be life threatening.
Long-term use can lead to liver and kidney disease, arthritis, infection in the lining and valves of the heart, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C stemming from needle sharing.
What does heroin look like?
Heroin is a light powder with an off-white or brownish tint.
How is heroin used?
It can be snorted, but more often than not it is injected. The powder is placed on a spoon with a drop of water, it is then heated until the heroin liquefies, and the liquid is then pulled into a syringe and injected.
How much does heroin cost?
At this point, we’ve all heard that you can buy heroin for as little as $10 per bag. This may lead one to believe that heroin is an inexpensive habit, but this isn’t the truth. The truth is that $10 bag only contains about a ¼ of a gram of heroin. To put this in perspective, that’s about 1/20 of a teaspoon. Heroin is often sold in ‘bundles’ that is (10) $10 bags. Heroin addicts can go through as much as two bundles per day. So that $10 bag just became a $200/day habit. Not so cheap now.
What are signs of heroin abuse?
The signs of heroin abuse can be difficult to spot, but here are a few things to keep an eye out for: newly developed lethargy - heroin users are often prone to nodding off at inappropriate times.
Keep an eye out for small black rubber bands; these are used to keep bundles of heroin together.
Also, needle caps. An addict may remember to get rid of a needle, but may miss the cap. Speaking of needles - ‘track marks’ are now a somewhat antiquated notion. Needles today are very small and fine, and with the exception of very heavy users, are often not visible on users.
Take notice of missing cash or jewelry. Many addicts take to theft to support their habit.
The biggest thing you can do is trust your intuition. If something feels off it probably is. If you are seeing behavior out of the norm, say something. If you suspect a loved one is using heroin, don’t wait to intervene. Get involved. Don’t hesitate. Seconds count. In order to hook people more quickly, drug cartels are peddling heroin that is getting more and more pure every day. So the amount of heroin an addict used today can literally kill them tomorrow. Interceding as soon as possible may mean the difference between life and death.
What is the best way to talk to your kids?
Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to be frank with your children and make them aware of the consequences of heroin. The tragedy of an overdose can be turned into a talking point for your family. Children need to understand how dangerous this drug is.
I think the bottom line on heroin is this. The problem is bigger than the police department. It is bigger than our community. It is bigger than our state. As a country we need to stand together and educate ourselves. We need to get into the schools and educate our children; make them acutely aware of the dangers of heroin. Give them cold, hard and yes, scary facts. The cycle of heroin abuse stops with the education of the next generation.
Everyone needs to know and understand that there is no specific race, gender or socioeconomic background associated with heroin addiction. This is a problem that faces every single one of us. East End, West End, Center City, Loyalsock, South Williamsport, Cogan Station, Trout Run, Montoursville, Jersey Shore, Hugheville, Muncy, Montgomery…it doesn’t matter. There is heroin in your neighborhood, there are dealers looking to hook your children and young adults seeing dealers making upwards of $15,000 per week and thinking that it looks like a pretty good deal. If we don’t work together – in our schools, as a community and with local law enforcement, we will lose the war against heroin.
If you or someone you know has a problem with heroin, I beg you to seek help as soon as possible. There are many local facilities that can help you, or help you help someone you love.