Parents in Naperville, IL may not have enjoyed the information that they were presented during an informational forum held by the local police department, but the information that they were given may prove to be quite valuable down the road. They were informed about the increasing number of teenagers that are turning towards heroin.
The trend with heroin use throughout the country is quite disturbing, and not just in Illinois. Even though the overall level of heroin use has declined or leveled off in most areas, teenage heroin use has seen a dramatic spike. While there are a number of different reasons for this, one of the largest contributing factors that experts can agree upon is that prescription opioid painkillers are easily accessible.
How Prescription Opioid Painkillers Are Involved
Because of the accessibility of prescription opioid painkillers, the use of opiates is more widespread and domesticated than ever before. Drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin are introducing young adults to the effects of opioid medications. Once someone is introduced to a certain feeling or sensation, related drugs no longer seem as exotic or scary. Once we take away that initial barrier of trying something new and dangerous by having them experience it in what they perceive to be a “safer” way, it opens the proverbial floodgates for further and future use.
We have discussed the problem with prescription drug medication before. Part of the problem is that a single pill of OxyContin or Vicodin may be extremely expensive (often costing upwards of 50 dollars when bought on the street) while a small bag of heroin is available for 1/5th of that price. Because they ultimately achieve a similar high, simple economics may be part of the reason that teenagers are turning to heroin at an alarming rate. When someone is already struggling with an opioid addiction, suddenly buying a small bag of heroin to feed his or her addiction seems like a smart choice. At the time, they are not thinking about long-term results, they are merely worried about how to get their next rush at the lowest possible cost.
A Different Perception
People that are in their twenties or thirties perhaps remember the constant anti-heroin measures that were taken to ensure that people avoided heroin. While it may have worked for adults, experts agree that the success of that initial campaign may have contributed to the problem that teenagers are facing today. Even though adults consumed less heroin because of the anti-heroin measures, the flow of heroin into the country has not stopped. In fact, over the past few years heroin production the world over has only increased. Because adults are no longer using as much heroin as before, those that are selling the product were in need of a new target demographic: that is where teenagers come into the picture. These teenagers have not been exposed to the massive anti-heroin campaign that most adults were. As a result, they are much less likely to have negative connotations of the drug.
Instead of associating heroin with crippling addiction and deadly overdoses, most teenagers associate it with the opioids that they are familiar with: prescription drugs. As a result, prescription medication has become the gateway drug to heroin.
Compounding The Problem
Another problem is the potency of the heroin available today. When compared to the heroin of the last few decades, the heroin available today is approximately 15 times stronger. Combine this with increased accessibility and low price, and you understand why it is such a problem. Even without its current potency, heroin is already one of the more addictive and dangerous drugs available. A stronger drug means that the chances of an overdose increase, and it means that addiction is much more likely to develop.
Part of the problem is misinformation and a lack of education. Many people assume that because they were told about the dangers of heroin when they were growing up, that the teenagers of today would somehow automatically have the same acquired knowledge. It is obvious when we look at the alarming rate with which teenagers are using heroin, that this is not true. Another problem is misinformation in regards to using the drug. Amongst some teenagers, there is the belief that injecting heroin is more addictive and dangerous than snorting the drug. When people do not have accurate information, and misinformation is spread from one teen to the next, people are unknowingly putting their lives at risk because of false information.
We already know that teenagers are more prone to risky behavior than adults are; this means that the dangers of heroin use become even greater. Teens are more likely to mix other narcotics with heroin, and are thus more likely to overdose. When looking at those that use heroin intravenously we find that teenagers are less likely to take precautions to protect against Hepatitis or HIV.
Finally, we have to remember that they are still teenagers. Even if they are aware of the fact that they are developing a problem, they may be uncomfortable discussing it with their parents for fears of being punished. This means that parents or guardians often do not notice that there is a problem unless their child gets in trouble with the law, begins failing in school, or suffers an overdose.
The Alternative Is Information
So what is it that we can do? Even though we respect law enforcement and the dedication with which they do their job, clearly they have been unable to control the flow of heroin into this country. If the drug is going to be available, and it is going to be affordable, the only way to ensure that use goes down is by educating its target audience. Most adults have seen the PSAs that show how destructive heroin can be – but are teenagers truly aware of the dangers?
It is important to educate and eliminate the gateway as well. Prescription drugs are already a major problem in the United States, but are we truly getting to the root of the problem? Until we eliminate the initial problem (opiate prescription medication) and educate young adults about the dangers of them, the chances that we see more teenagers suffer a heroin overdose are only going to increase.