Locally and nationally, the use of illegal opioids and the abuse of prescription opioids has reached epidemic proportions and continues to rise. Drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined. In 2016, 64,070 Americans died from drug overdoses – 175 each day. Annual drug fatalities now outnumber American fatalities during the entire Vietnam War. They also exceed AIDS-related deaths in the worst year of the HIV epidemic (50,628 deaths in 1995). It has been declared a national public health emergency.
Closer to home, many Vermonters have been touched directly by this crisis and many more have been indirectly affected. The cost to the State in human suffering, lost opportunity, and increased social services, treatment, and law enforcement is incalculable. Vermont saw 106 deaths from opioid-related overdoses in 2016 and had a 159% increase between 2010 and 2016. Through September 2017, 72 Vermonters lost their lives to opioid-related overdose deaths.
Our children and family services have seen the impact as well. The Department for Children and Families reported that in 2016, Vermont had 1,302 children in custody. Of the 266 children ages 0 – 5, over half (53%) were in custody due to opioid abuse issues. Nineteen percent of persons who are homeless self-report chronic substance abuse.
This crisis has its genesis in a health care system that has quadrupled the number of prescription opioids in the United States since the 1990s. In 2016 prescribers wrote 66.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 Americans. As noted in the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis Report, “In fact, in 2015, the number of opioids prescribed in the U.S. was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”
Prescription opioids are medications that are chemically similar to endorphins – opioids that our body makes naturally to relieve pain – and also similar to the illegal drug heroin.
Opioid receptors are also located in the brain’s reward center, where they cause a large release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This causes a strong feeling of relaxation and euphoria (extreme good feelings). Repeated surges of dopamine in the reward center from drug-taking can lead to addiction.
Common street names for prescription opioids are Oxys, Percs, and Vikes – depending on their dosage can cost $40.00 for one pill.
Heroin is derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted from the seedpods of some varieties of poppy plants.
Heroin goes by the chemical name diacetylmorphine, and it’s the fastest-acting of the opiate drugs. Whether it’s injected, smoked or snorted, heroin enters the brain quickly and can cause a range of physical and psychological effects.
The binding results in an intense “rush” of euphoria and freedom from pain, followed by a warming sensation and the drowsy sense of wellbeing. A heroin high can last for several hours, depending on the strength of the dose.
It is common in Bennington County where heroin addicts will inject themselves with 40-80 bags of heroin a day – whereas one bag of heroin costs $20.00 dollars.
First synthesized in the 1960s to treat cancer patients.
It is used to treat severe pain for those who have become tolerant to opioid therapy.
Often added to Heroin to increase its strength.
50 times more powerful than Heroin and 100 times more powerful than Morphine.
The equivalent to a few grains of salt can be lethal to an adult.
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