Tag Archives: heroin

180 Overdoses, 18 Deaths, One Week

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

In July, The Cincinnati Enquirer sent 60 reporters, photographers, and videographers into the community to chronicle an ordinary week during the height of the heroin epidemic in Ohio and Kentucky.

In the interactive feature, “Seven Days of Heroin,” Terry DeMio and Dan Horn piece together a timeline from dozens of videos, transcripts, and field notes. It starts on Monday, July 10, and ends on Sunday, July 16, 2017.

It’s a little after sunrise on the first day of another week, and Cincinnati is waking up again with a heroin problem. So is Covington. And Middletown. And Norwood. And Hamilton. And West Chester Township. And countless other cities and towns across Ohio and Kentucky.

This particular week, July 10 through 16, will turn out to be unexceptional by the dreary standards of what has become the region’s greatest health crisis.

This is normal now, a week like any other. But a terrible week is no less terrible because it is typical. When heroin and synthetic opiates kill one American every 16 minutes, there is little comfort in the routine.

The accounts are harrowing. Vivid, often silent videos punctuate paragraph after paragraph of breathless bodies, emergency dispatches, orphaned children, and death tallies. Loved ones look on as lips turn blue, turn purple. As soon as the reader becomes accustomed to the rhythm of hourly tragedy, each story, like the drug, takes a turn for the worse.

Gaffney, 28, quit cold turkey after learning she was pregnant. She’s living now with the baby at First Step Home, a treatment center in Walnut Hills. They plan to move into an apartment together soon.

After years of addiction, Gaffney’s goals are modest. She wants to raise her child in a normal home. She wants a normal life.

Uebel finishes the examination. “She looks real, real good,” she says.

Gaffney is relieved. She scoops Elliana into her arms and takes her appointment card for her next visit to the clinic in December.

“See you then,” she says.

(Ten days later, Gaffney is dead from a heroin overdose.)

Peter Bhatia, editor and vice president for audience development at the Enquirer and Cincinnati.com, shares why they took on this 7-day project in a postscript:

We undertook this work – spreading our staff throughout courtrooms, jails, treatment facilities, finding addicts on the streets and talking to families who have lost love ones – to put the epidemic in proportion. It is massive. It has a direct or indirect impact on every one of us. It doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, age or economic background. Its insidious spread reaches every neighborhood, every township, every city, regardless of demographics. And it is stressing our health-care systems, hospitals and treatment capacity.

We set out to do this project not to affirm or deny differing views on the cost of battling addiction and its impact. Rather, we set out to understand how it unfolds day in and day out. I believe you will find what we found to be staggering. In the weeks ahead, The Enquirer will build on this effort, devoting more attention to actions our communities can take to make a difference against heroin’s horrible impact.

Hence the title of this ongoing project: “Heroin: Reclaiming Lives.”

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Why Is There a Patient Cap on Medication Used to Treat Heroin Addicts?

Photo by Joe Loong CC-BY 2.0

At Guernica, Lucas Mann (who lost his brother to heroin addiction) writes on why abstinence and methadone don’t work and how doctors are failing in their fight against arbitrary, DEA-enforced patient caps on buprenorphine — a promising treatment for heroin addiction.

Curran began prescribing in 2002. He was stunned by the results, and so were his patients. The first patients went out and told others, and there were many others. But he wasn’t supposed to treat an endless supply; at the time, a doctor was capped at thirty buprenorphine patients in any given year. Curran hit his cap in less than a week. In a matter of months, he was looking at over 700 people in need. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to get local methadone clinics (who were authorized to dispense buprenorphine) to take his patients, but they were unwilling to use anything but methadone.

“The people kept coming,” he tells me. “It was like Schindler’s List.”

It’s hard to turn away someone prostituting for drug money because of a number you’re not supposed to cross. And this is where the Hippocratic Oath comes in. He prescribed to all of them.

“They told me I was the biggest violating doctor in America,” he says.

When the DEA agents—young blonde women in professional attire, like pharmaceutical reps—first showed up at his office in 2005, it was a surprise. The waiting room was full, and his patients watched as the officers told him to start letting people go.

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How a Local Police Chief Took on the Drug War

After 25 years of fighting a losing war on drugs and with a heroin epidemic raging in his home state of Massachusetts, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened his police station’s doors to any addict seeking help, promising to get them into treatment. Writing for Boston Magazine, Chris Sweeney delves deeply into Campanello’s work, and the unlikely success of his initiative: in just three short months, 145 individuals have already come to Campanello seeking help. But first, the story of the Facebook post that started it all:

Campanello, heavyset with jowls and thinning hair, knew his limitations: just a small-town cop with a tiny budget and no power to enact laws. So on the morning of May 4, he logged into the biggest platform he had—the Gloucester Police Department’s Facebook account—and, for the first time, began typing out his defiant approach. Starting June 1, he wrote, “Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged.” Instead, he and his officers would help them get medical care. It didn’t matter what insurance you had, or whether you had insurance at all—Campanello promised to shred the red tape that entangled so many who sought treatment. “I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance,” he concluded in the post. “The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.”

He read the message over for typos, floated the cursor over the “Post” button, and clicked his mouse at 10:55 a.m. It instantly went viral, shared by more than 30,000 people, “liked” by 33,000, and viewed more than 2 million times.

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‘Either Addicted, or in Prison Because of Their Addiction’

Photo by bradadozier

Heroin use and related overdoses have been increasing in nearly every demographic group in the U.S., a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report posted earlier this month shows. In obituaries, “a growing number of families are dropping the euphemisms,” instead describing the painful realities of addiction. David Amsden’s April 2014 Rolling Stone story, “The New Face of Heroin,” examined the drug’s connection with pharmaceutical painkillers, and its spread into Vermont and other seemingly unlikely parts of the country:

The portrait of the governor’s native state that emerged was severe, conjuring up images more commonly associated with blighted inner cities than a state with the nation’s fifth-lowest unemployment rate and a populace that is 95 percent white. Since 2000, Shumlin noted, Vermont has seen an eightfold increase in those seeking treatment for opiate use, with an almost 40 percent spike in the past year for heroin alone, and every day hundreds are languishing on waiting lists for understaffed clinics. Deaths from overdoses in 2013 had nearly doubled from 2012; property crimes and home invasions were on the rise; and close to 80 percent of the state’s inmates “are either addicted or in prison because of their addiction.” The same major highways where tourists routinely pull over to take photos of rustic vistas had, in the governor’s description, become pipelines of heroin distribution, with organized gangs setting up outposts across the state, where a six-dollar bag of heroin in their home cities can fetch as much as $30. As a result, an estimated $2 million worth of opiates were now being trafficked into Vermont each week – a staggering amount for a state that, with only 626,000 residents, is the second-least-populated in the country, after Wyoming.

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Drug Life: A Reading List

1. “Finding Molly: Drugs, Dancing and Death.” (Shane Morris, Bro Jackson, September 2013)

Every batch of Molly is different. And that’s what makes the pills or powder you’re buying at your local music festival so dangerous. Shane Morris offers a first-person account of his time in both the EDM and Molly industries.

2. “Is Marijuana Withdrawal a Real Thing?” (Malcolm Harris, Aeon, January 2014)

When the author takes a smoke break after five years, his dreams are disturbing enough to send him looking for answers in medical journals and user forums.

3. “The New Face of Heroin.” (David Amsden, Rolling Stone, April 2013)

In case you’ve missed the swathe of NPR reports, Vermont is a plaid-clad heroin hotspot, “conjuring up images more commonly associated with blighted inner cities than a state with the nation’s fifth-lowest unemployment rate and a populace that is 95 percent white.”

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons