A recent New York Times survey found prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic continue to soar out of control. Bowling Green is no exception to the rising death rates, due to overdose.
The survey found drastically rising death rates in young white adults, mainly because of drug overdose. While it may be affecting the death rates of young white adults mostly, Bowling Green Deputy Chief of Police Justin White said the heroin and prescription drug epidemics are affecting people of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, races and ethnicities.
A freshman business major at the University who wished to remain anonymous knows this struggle with addiction.
“I just happened to have one wrong moment with one wrong person who was like ‘Well just try this,’” he said. “It was just one time, you know. That’s all it was.”
After that one time, the then 16-year-old found himself going to places and meeting people he said he never would have imagined otherwise, and he became a frequenter to abusing any types of prescription drugs he could get his hands on.
“I can’t exaggerate enough how accurate people are when they say it’s the snowball effect,” he said.
Believing he knew what he was doing, the now college freshman never considered the possibility of overdose, until one day he had a near-death experience that left him paralyzed for six hours. He realized if he continued his drug abuse, he would have resorted to heroin and may not have lived much longer.
Lorrie Lewandowski, associate director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, said last year 45,500 lives were lost to addiction in the United States, and every day there are six opiate related deaths in Ohio alone.
Sources at the Wood County Coroner’s office said 19 drug-involved deaths occurred in Wood County last year, up from 12 combined drug and alcohol deaths in 2014 according to the Wood County Annual Report.
“Frankly they’d be a heck of a lot higher if it wasn’t for Narcan,” Deputy Chief White said.
Narcan is a drug used by fire and police divisions to reverse the effects of opioids and pull a patient out of an overdose. The Bowling Green Fire Division has been using Narcan for the past 25 years.
In an email, Fire Chief Tom Sanderson said in 2015, 43 doses of Narcan were administered to 33 patients, an increase from 32 doses to 25 patients in 2014. Sometimes an overdose is so extensive it requires more than one dose of Narcan to bring a patient out of the overdose.
The WBGU-TV series “Addiction: Heroin & Pills” accounted the growing epidemic to the use of pain as a vital symptom in the 1990s, which increased prescriptions of opiate painkillers. Because of the increase in prescription opiates, more people had access to the drugs, and many became addicted. When the addicts were no longer prescribed these drugs, they began buying them on the streets, which became expensive. Users switched to a cheaper substance — heroin.
The same effect takes place in high school and college-aged individuals, who try prescription opiates under the impression that they can’t be harmful because they come through the medical system.
What makes addiction so gripping is the drug’s effect on the same part of the brain that gives feedback on pleasures from eating, drinking and exercise. This sensation makes users believe the drugs are essential.
White said in Bowling Green both heroin and prescription drugs are a problem, and there is a positive correlation between drug use and shop lifting.
In “Addiction: Heroin & Pills,” Andrea Boxil, deputy director of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team, said the solution is to reverse the stigma that addicts are criminals because of these petty thefts.
“To criminalize them is a lifetime sentence for an action, for a behavior, for a disease,” Boxil said. She believes instead of just sending addicts to prison, they need to be included in a rehabilitation program as well.
University Director of Wellness Connection Faith DeNardo said heroin isn’t nearly as big of a problem on campus as prescription drugs, which is why the University offers Generation RX, an informational program funded by a grant to raise awareness of the dangers in misusing prescription drugs.
Through Generation RX, peer educators who are trained through classes or weekend trainings have the opportunity to go to classes and organizations to inform students about drug abuse, among other health topics.
“In a perfect world you know you would be able to reach every teenager or individual because it is destroying their lives,” White said.
Lewandowski said anyone who needs treatment can also find a rehabilitation agency through the ADAMHS Board, hoping to reduce the numbers of drug-related deaths nationwide.