Growing Heroin Problem

FrankWe reported on the growing heroin problem back in January of this year.  ( previous article ) So, have things gotten better? No.

Latest statistics from Stephen Campbell at the DA’s office show that the problem is only increasing.

2014 January through September:  143 cases. (Already another 13% over last year)
2013:  127 cases (410% increase over previous year.  That’s a Heroin case EVERY 3 DAYS)
2012:  31 cases (61% increase over the previous year)
2011:  19 cases

So this year we’ve already exceeded last year’s huge heroin case load by another 13%.  That puts us on track to end the year with at least 170 heroin cases, or a heroin case about every other day.

That will be a 33% increase over last year and 895% increase since 2011, before the justice levy failed.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, on average less than one half of one percent of the US population uses heroin (http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/heroin).  Unfortunately, although the use of most other drugs other than marijuana has declined (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends) the use of opiates is on the rise.  (http://time.com/4505/heroin-gains-popularity-as-cheap-doses-flood-the-u-s/)

More alarming, “Opiate use and addiction is linked to at least 50 percent of the major crimes in the United States; at least half of all suspects arrested for violent crimes (homicide, assault, etc.) were under the influence of opiates when arrested.”  (http://www.caron.org/knowledge-library/statistics-outcomes/heroin-opiate-stats)

We talked with William (Bill) Landis, Chief of Grants Pass Dept of Public Safety and Dr. Steve Rotter, Medical Director of the Medically Assisted Treatment Center (MAT-C), about the heroin problem facing the community.  Bill Landis is a member of the board directing a committee leading the effort to make a sobering center in Grants Pass a reality.  He explained that it will be a place where people under the influence of any drugs (alcohol, heroin, etc) can be taken for up to twenty-four hours for sobering.  From there, the staff can help direct the people to counseling providers, housing assistance, and recovery programs.  It will play a key role in helping people begin the recovery process.

The MAT-Center will prove a critical component in the community’s efforts to address heroin addiction.  If a center can be established in the city, it will provide far more in-depth and focused services for those affected by this addiction.  The center is envisioned through a multistage development process to “establish an opiate treatment center with the ultimate goal of assisting as many addicts as we could to achieve a drug free life and become a contributing part of our community.” (http://securingoursafety.org/opioid-clinic/).

The center is in the infant stages, with efforts being made to obtain state and federal grants to help fund its creation.  It will hopefully include a methadone treatment center to help get people off the streets so everyone is safer with addicts not feeling driven to steal to fund their next fix.  It will include a range of other support and counseling services, and hopefully include an inpatient component where addicts can be kept for up to thirty days in intensive treatment with the goal of releasing them with the knowledge and skills to control their addiction and maintain a healthy life.

When asked what they feel the community needs in order to curb the rapid growth of opiate addiction, both Bill Landis and Dr. Rotter focused on education.  Bill cited it as the biggest single factor.  A large percentage of heroin addicts first encounter opiates through prescription medication, either their own, or through pills provided by friends or family.  They then move on to heroin in an attempt to get a better high or because it’s cheaper and more easily accessible than prescription alternatives.

People don’t realize how dangerous opiate addiction is, and all segments of the population are falling victim to it.  “I think people right now don’t understand this problem is far reaching across all socio-economic groups.  It’s across all boards:  young, old, you name it,” said Landis.

In an article that appeared in the Grants Pass Courier on September 12th of this year, Chief Landis revealed that even a relative of his succumbed to opiates.  It can affect any family if they are not careful.  The most important piece of information for people to realize is that they are not alone.  This is not an isolated problem like it used to be.

With the same focus on eduction, Dr. Rotter said the MAT-C committee is working on releasing an educational DVD in the near future.  It will include parents of addicts, current addicts, and former addicts who had healed.  He pointed out that one of the groups at highest risk of running afoul of opiates are youth from troubled homes.  People from all walks of life can fall victim to it, but this is a huge risk factor.  He hopes the DVD will provide much needed information for everyone in the community.

Heroin addiction is a widespread issue affecting nearby counties as well as our own, but our lack of law enforcement definitely plays a role in allowing its rapid growth here.  With no local enforcement ability to prevent the supply, it is becoming increasingly easy for people to find the drug.  Once hooked, it is extremely difficult to break the addiction.  The sobering center and MAT-Center will help, but prevention is still the best solution.

Violent crime may be down in the city, but property crime is off the charts.  Most experts relate property crimes to drugs.  Burglaries and unlawful entries into cars is definitely on the rise and there is an obvious link between those crimes and the narcotics issue.

Opiate addiction is not a simple problem and it does not have simple answers, but one point is abundantly clear.  We as a community must come together to educate those most at risk, to provide recovery services for those caught in the cycle of addiction, and guarantee law enforcement to crack down on the supply and on the related crimes.

Anyone who would like to get involved in the effort to establish a sobering center is invited to contact Bill Landis or Dr. Rotter and join one of the committees.
Sobering Center committee:  (http://securingoursafety.org/2361-2/).
MAT-C committee:  (http://securingoursafety.org/opioid-clinic/)

The full article from September 12th discussing the impact of heroin addiction on families from the Daily Courier is available in the e-edition archives.  A related article discussing the out-of-control heroin use, from September 11 of this year is also available.