EDITORIAL: Heroin on the rise

Increasing heroin use in Northeast Mississippi, while not an epidemic, offers disturbing proof that what happens elsewhere in the world of illegal substances almost always flows into our region.
National studies and the statistics of law enforcement agencies catalogue a sharp increase in heroin use, especially among adolescents and young adults, during the last decade, with apparently easy availability and affordability.
Heroin, an opium derivative, has been around on the illegal drug scene for a long time, and it possesses known, powerfully addictive properties, whether used intravenously, chewed and swallowed or smoked.
As Daily Journal law enforcement reporter Danza Johnson recently wrote, regional arrests for heroin use have risen from single digits to double digits, and the increase has the attention of narcotics agents.
The increasing use among adolescents is cause for concern, especially because other illegal substances, called “gateway” drugs, often precede heroin use.
A federal drug survey conducted last year by the Department of Health and human services, asked high school seniors, “On how many occasions, if any, have you used drugs or alcohol during the last 12 months or month?”
The frequency of use was, if not surprising, disturbing:
– 65 percent had used alcohol within the year, and 43 percent with the month.
– 32.4 percent used marijuana within the year, 19.4 per cent within the month.
– 9.1 percent had used “other opiates” within the year; 3.8 percent within the month.
– 0.7 percent had used heroin within the year, and 0.4 percent within the month.
– 1.8 percent reported heroin use at some point.
Another HHS study, in 2006, reported 189,000 emergency room visits nationwide related to heroin use.
If only 1.8 percent of the high school seniors expected to graduate in 2010 (about 3 million) used heroin and became addicted, as is possible, that would add more than 50,000 addicts with whom parents, families and the law enforcement and health care systems eventually must deal.
Several warning signs point to possible heroin use:
– Slackening in work habits and performance.
– Personal care declines, including personal hygiene and appearance.
– A tendency toward recklessness becomes common, with consequences seemingly unimportant.
– Withdrawal from friends, family and activities is common.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found the societal cost of heroin addiction at $20 billion per year including criminality and health issues.
Heroin addiction obviously has important public policy impacts. Our region’s law enforcement deserves full backing in its effort to prevent broader use, especially among adolescents and young adults.

Joe Rutherford

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