What can you do about it? I was asked to write about the heroin epidemic for this issue. Where to go with that in only 500 words? I could cite statistics that show how devastating the epidemic has been statewide: seven deaths in Worcester County the first nine months of 2015, ,one death in Garrett County in that same time period, and 189 deaths in Baltimore City. Some neighborhoods have been decimated. In fact, the only county in Maryland that was spared a heroin overdose death in that time period was Caroline County.
I could discuss the destruction of the communities where heroin has taken over: how the need to feed the addiction leads people to resort to stealing or sex work to get the money for the next fix; how trying to hide the addiction destroys relationships with friends and families.
I could address the public-health issues: How shooting up with dirty needles spreads diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.
But I think most people are already aware that heroin is not good. Not good for the people using it, not good for their families or for the communities in which they live. The question becomes: “What can we do to make things better?”
Do you use heroin? Reach out for help. You are not alone. Call 410-433-5175, a crisis intervention and referral service available 24/7. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Find someone who has been successful in their recovery and talk with them. It is a long road to recovery but that one phone call can be the first step.
Do you know someone who uses heroin? Are you over 18? Learn about naloxone, also known by its trade name Narcan. Naloxone is a prescription medication that reverses overdose from heroin or other opioid medications. It saves lives. It can be given either nasally or as an injection. Even though you need a prescription to get it, anyone over the age of 18 living in the State of Maryland can take a short training, become certified, and get a prescription for naloxone. The training is offered in person or online. For more information, check out Dontdie.org or call 410-433-5175.
Don’t know anyone who uses heroin? Learn more about the problem. A good place to start is the State of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. On their webpage for overdose prevention (Mbp.state.md.us/pages/overdose.html) you’ll find an overview of the epidemic and the state’s response to it. Find out what’s going on in your own community. Contact your local and state representatives and advocate for funding for programs to help those who are living with addiction.
The heroin epidemic is not something that only happens to somebody else. Heroin does not discriminate: not by economic class, not racial division or gender or orientation difference. It is stealthy. It can start as simply as a prescription for something to help with back pain.
What can you do about it? Get involved. Take time to care for yourself. Take time to care for your family. Take time to care for your friends. Take time to care for your community. Together, we can make a difference.
Liz Thompson has been a case manager at the Frederick County Health Department for over six years.
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