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The Heroin Scourge

Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to alleviate pain. Some can be legally prescribed by medical doctors; others are illegal, such as heroin. Since the year 2000, the number of heroin users in the United States has nearly tripled, to over 1 million. Deaths attributed to heroin have increased five-fold.

All social and economic statuses are affected by this highly addictive and deadly drug, and it has springboarded from once-narrow belt across the Northeast to Midwest to infiltrate every area of the country. In its wake lies shattered families, child abuse and neglect, the heartbreak of infants born into addiction, and the spread of affiliated diseases (e.g., hepatitis and HIV).

In the late 1990s, many pharmaceutical companies promoted a wider use of opioids, such as OxyContin, claiming the risk of addiction was extremely low- which wasn't true. Doctors overprescribed opioids on a grand scale for well over a decade. Many patients became hooked.

In recent years, the U.S. government has cracked down on legal and illegal prescriptions of opioids. It has alco changed the texture of opioid pills to make them more difficult to crush and inject into the blood stream. The unintended consequence is that many addicts have switched to heroin. Heroin is far cheaper and can be delivered via injection, snorting, or smoking.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama asked Congress for over $1 billion in new funding to expand treatment for users of heroin and abusers of prescription painkillers. Many state and local officials and community organizations are sounding the alarm as well. Hopefully increased awareness and wise countermeasures can reverse the tide of heroin devastation.

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