Not My Kid
She was only 17 years old. Blonde, brainy, beautiful. She came from well educated parents, lived in an affluent community, was on the swim team, a cheerleader and an honor student until she was found deceased on the kitchen floor in her boyfriends apartment. They thought the suburban life would insulate them from such tragedy. What happened?
We are living with an epidemic among our youth. What once was unthinkable has now become commonly accepted as reality. Opiate addiction is one of the fastest growing addictions in our country. Heroin is the new 'drug of choice' (DOC), it is cheaper than a pack of cigarettes and more accessible than alcohol. It can start innocently enough with the use of prescription pain medicines.
In my 30 years of working with families, many clients have told me about getting in mom & dads car, driving into the city, getting off on the west side at a specified exit and pulling up to a certain corner to easily score drugs. However, it seems that heroin has found it's way out to the suburbs and is now right in our own back yards.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that Heroin deaths have doubled in the United States in less than a decade. Chicago has been cited as have one of the highest rates of heroin use and overdose in the country. Specifically, according to the Lake County Coroners office, there we 42 heroin related deaths in Lake County last year. That represent a 7% increase in the past year. We see their names in the paper, our teens hear the stories at school, and it comes across in a blip on the 10 o'clock news. But, what if this was our kid?
As a parent watch for changes in your child's behavior for signs of drug or heroin use. Heroin was once thought to be only an injectable drug, but is now frequently snorted or smoked as well.
Experts suggest that all medications be kept in locked places and disposed of when no longer necessary for their prescribed use. Advise other children not to share their medications among each other. Even ADHD medications are being traded, sold and stolen among youth.
One of the most compelling reasons people continue to use opiates, is the feeling of being very sick without them. This can include feeling nauseous, throwing up, itchy skin, sweating, cold flashes with chills, restlessness with kicking movements, inability to sleep and an overall aching. To avoid this 'sickness', people seek out the drug again for relief. Detoxification from heroin is not life threatening, but it can feel intolerable.
As a community our youth are in trouble. Opiates are widely available, easily addictive and hard to quit. What is Lake County doing about it?
Mike Nerheim, The Lake County States Attorney, has been very active in combating the opiate epidemic. The Lake County Opioid Initiative launched 'A Way Out' Program. This program allows anyone struggling with addiction to go to one of 7 police departments in order to be assessed for treatment. They can seek help at any time without fear of criminal charges being brought against them, even if they have drugs on them at the time. These police departments are cooperating with the Lake County Health Department, Gateway Foundation and NICASSA to assist in accessing treatment.
Naloxone is a drug that counteracts to effects of opiate drugs and is being used currently in Lake County to reverse the effects of an overdose. Many parents, organization and police have been trained in the administration of this medication. The Lake Country Sheriffs office has approved the use of this drug saving many lives of those that would have otherwise died. Since the start of it's use in 2014, more than 90 lives have been saved. Using anonymous crime reporting technologies, people can call in a suspected overdose and direct the police to an at risk individual.
At a federal level, the Obama administration has loosened it's strict control of buprenorphine (Suboxone) prescribed to ease cravings for heroin and other opioid drugs. Previously it was difficult to find a doctor to prescribe buprenorphine, but recognition of the opiate problem nationwide now allows doctors to prescribe it with more liberty. This approach is referred to as MAT, Medication Assisted Treatment. The use of this medication in treatment at first was controversial among treatment providers, but seems to be gaining more support.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has created The National Take Back Initiative. This allows people to safely and conveniently dispose of their prescription medications to local law enforcement agencies. The hours of return are specified as 10am to 2pm. Watch for location details in your area as the date approaches. If you must keep controlled prescription medications in your home, lock them in a safe.
If you suspect that your family member is using or addicted, seek assistance immediately. Addiction never gets better, it is a progressive and fatal illness. Begin with a consultation with a trained professional. Seeking help may save a life. School Counselors, police, health departments, townships, private therapists or local hospitals that have treatment or rehab units will often do a free assessment. There is hope. Recovery is possible. We see it everyday.