I Was a Heroin-Addicted Mom

“Looking back now, I can see 100 percent that [my son] was in pain and wanted me to stop.”

Of everything Crystal Oertle remembers from the darkest days of her heroin addiction, the memories that haunt her the most, she says, involve her children. Crystal was 24 years old and four months pregnant with her daughter before she put a halt to her daily drug routine of painkillers and meth. From the time that daughter was 2 and her son was 9, Crystal would leave her son at a skateboard park unattended for hours at a time while she made dope runs. On one of those occasions he was badly bitten by a dog and, bleeding, terrified, and alone, was rushed to the hospital by a concerned stranger. Often Crystal met with her dealers with her toddler daughter in tow. And she drove high with both kids. “I put them in danger many times,” Crystal, now 36, admits, her voice low. “I could’ve gotten into a wreck, been in a situation with drug dealers, gotten arrested. My kids could’ve witnessed that.”

Crystal has been clean for 10 months and is now an advocate for recovering addicts. She runs a website for people pursuing recovery called Erase the Shame, and hopes one day to become a substance abuse counselor. For almost a decade, though, she was one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans hooked on heroin and opioid painkillers, drugs that have plagued communities across the Midwest and Northeast, everywhere from rural Shelby, Ohio, where Crystal grew up, to the suburbs of Boston and New York City.


According to the CDC’s most recent available statistics, more than 29,000 people died of opioid painkiller- or heroin-related overdoses in 2014, more than any year on record. Harder to quantify, however, is the devastation those drugs have wrought upon families and children. Over the last several months, painful accounts of opioids’ tiniest victims have gone viral. In September, law enforcement officials in Ohio posted a disturbing image of a grandmother slumped over after a heroin overdose in the front seat of her car, with her 4-year-old grandson in back. Authorities later placed the boy with relatives — but other kids don’t have that option. Experts attribute surging numbers of children in foster care in several states to the explosion of heroin abuse. In Ohio, Crystal’s home state, the number of kids in the system has spiked 13 percent since 2012, per state statistics. More babies are hospitalized in Ohio for symptoms of opiate dependence than in years past, too, from 14 for every 10,000 live births in 2004 to 134 per 10,000 in 2014. “Children really are the invisible victims,” Scott Britton, assistant director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch in September.

Crystal remembers taking a Vicodin for a hangover about 17 years ago. She slowly started taking more and became addicted. When she switched from opioid painkillers to heroin seven years later, Crystal vowed never to become a junkie. Injection was a boundary she would not cross. She only snorted, alternating between crushed Vicodin and Oxycontin and powdered heroin a few times a day. “It made me feel good,” she says.

Black Lives Matter Less Even in Drug Addiction

A heroin needle. Photo credits to Wheeler Cowperthwaite via Flickr Creative Commons.

The country is in the middle of an unprecedented opioid crisis. The majority of overdose deaths – six out of 10 – involves someone taking an opioid such as heroin and pain relievers. This is the second in a two-day series by writing fellows for the Center for Community Change who share their take on a crisis that is not only killing Americans at record rates, it is costing billions of dollars in health and social costs and overwhelming hospitals and police departments. The first piece is published here.

By Fredrick McKissack, Jr.

Even when it comes to drug addiction, black lives matter less.

Consider the current opiate epidemic, where the overprescribing of Vicodin and Oxycontin has corrupted minds, crippled bodies and shook politicians to reconsider long-held beliefs about substance abuse and criminal justice.

Crack cocaine’s disruptive effects did much the same thing to black minds and bodies in the late 1980s and early 90s. But the political, policy and media response to the two epidemics could not be more different.

Today’s opiate abuse fits the narrative of the age: white middle-class is in pain, a literal agony and figurative malaise from the vanished American dream. Heroin addicts are seen sympathetically, as people struggling with the challenges of hard lives.

Consider the recent hand ringing after an Ohio police department released a photo of a white couple overdosing on heroin as a 4-year-old-boy sat in the back, strapped to his car seat. The police say they wanted to highlight the tragedy of the scourge, while on social media, people were angry that the photos shamed those suffering from addictions.

Or how one policy expert describes heroin addiction on Scientific American’s blogas a dependence formed as a result of childhood trauma, mental illness and job loss, personal risk factors that lead people to self-medicate.

Or how politicians such as New Jersey governor and former presidential candidate Chris Christie delivered an impassioned plea last fall where he kicked the base that supported the notion that people who abused substances are “getting what they deserve.”

The opiate emergency even unites political rivals. Former Congressmen Democrat Patrick Kennedy and Republican Newt Gingrich discussed at a June press conference personal and logical approach for their joint project “Advocates for Opioid Recovery.” Gingrich echoed Christie’s repose.

“There’s this myth that everybody can just will themselves off of it,” Gingrich said. “Imagine that we said, ‘You know, we shouldn’t give people insulin – they ought to will themselves to the correct diet and exercise and giving insulin makes them weaker.’”

Imagine if Gingrich’s response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s had taken the same measured approach. Back then, crack cocaine was a battle in the culture wars that became a chance to exploit racial divisions for political gain. There was little sympathetic discussion about how the people addicted to crack suffered the same risk factors as the white heroin addicts of today.

Instead, Gingrich, along with other policy experts and politicians, advocated a stronger crack-down on arrests and jail time. A 1989 profile of Gingrich in Mother Jones included the then-House minority whip’s response to the draconian tactics of the government’s war on drugs, and by extension, black people.

“Eventually he acknowledges that his prescription—more prisons, police, prosecutors, paid informants, border guards, and executions—“is very old-fashioned, because it works,” Beers wrote.
There’s more.

“Gingrich talks vaguely of the need for ‘much more empowerment, much more self-control,” of those using drugs, Beers wrote.

In September, 1989, William Bennett, the nation’s first Drug Czar, announced his $7.9 billion battle plan to combat drugs, specifically crack—70 percent of which would be spent on hiring more police and building more prisons.

The crime bill that passed in 1994 exacerbated the problem by lengthening sentences for crack, but not powder cocaine use and sales, as well as defunding prison education programs. The outgrowth is the police militarization that has stomped over black communities. Between 1995 and 1997, the defense department donated 1.2 million pieces of military hardware to police departments, including armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers, laser scopes and intelligence gathering equipment.

These efforts targeted black communities, not aided them, says legal scholar Kenneth Nunn, and fuels the anger and distrust against police so prevalent today.

If today’s heroin stories are about white pain, yesterday’s crack narrative focused on the unrestrained id of Negroes. Like the current opioid crisis, the crack cocaine problem elicited mounds of articles and hours of TV stories, specials and documentaries, but unlike the opioid crisis, there is a lot less empathy.
“Between October 1988 and October 1989, for example, the Washington Post alone ran 1565 stories … about the drug crisis,” wrote the editor of the 1998 book “Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice.”

“The Post’s own ombudsman … editorialized against what he called the loss of ‘a proper sense of perspective’ due to such a ‘hyperbole epidemic. He said that, ‘Politicians are doing a number on people’s heads.’ “

I remember those days quite well, which is why I agree with Yeshiva University law professor Ekow Yankah’s assessment of that time in history in his PBS NewsHour essay last March comparing today’s heroin headlines with the visuals of the crack era.

“Television brought us endless images of thin, black, ravaged bodies, always with desperate, dried lips. We learned the words ‘crack baby,’ “ he said. “Back then, when addiction was a black problem, there was no wave of national compassion. Instead, we were warned of super predators, young, faceless black men wearing bandannas and sagging jeans.”

But crack’s black face was exaggerated. When neighborhood was taken into account, there was no variance in race and crack use in racially mixed neighborhoods. Even today, crack is still viewed as a “black” drug, although whites smoke it in higher numbers than African Americans.

A most prevalent hyperbole was the “crack baby” craze. When juxtaposed with how the media portrays the plight of heroin babies today, wounded angels clipped by a mother’s pain mismanagement, the sci-fi scary analysis of the crack era is as contemptible as it is laughable.

Journalist Kali Holloway highlighted the duality when she compared editorials that call for empathy for heroin-addicted mothers instead of scorn to the fear mongering in the 1980s crack era commentary that created the idea of a generation of sociopath “super predators” roaming the countryside.

Crack did lead to an increase in the education gap, but the nightmarish scenarios didn’t come to pass. Yet the threat became so believable that it may have been hardwired into how white people perceive African Americans, particularly males, as threats.

“I suppose what that really suggests is how sad it is that black American humanity remains unrecognizable for so many white Americans,” Holloway wrote.

Opioid addiction is a public health emergency, and it is a good thing to see that party boundaries drop and lawmakers consider policy decisions that treat both the present crisis and the future effects. Compassion, compromise and restraint ought to be hallmarks of our democracy. Too bad these traits were not present 25 years ago.

8 Things to Understand About Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction is a deceptive, dangerous and relentless killer. It takes the lives of thousands every single year and without effective educational outlets and messages being distributed, the lethal opiate will continue to reign on in what has been labeled as an “epidemic” by health officials in the US. Thankfully, there are countless resources to get help in heroin addiction treatment, to escape the abuse that takes so many lives, and hurts so many people each and every day.

8 Things You Should Know About Heroin Addiction Treatment

Education means knowing substance abuse facts. What addiction looks like, what it is and especially what to do about it. If you’re new or simply curious to know more about the heroin epidemic, here are some heroin addiction facts that you must know:

8 Things to Understand About Heroin Addiction Treatment

Timing is Everything in Heroin Addiction Treatment

If you or your loved one suffer from a substance abuse problem, the longer you wait the deeper and more treacherous the situation becomes. The right time to get into heroin addiction treatment is now.

Know That Drug Addiction Help is Available

There are many resources to assist in escaping the grips of substance abuse. Among such resources are substance abuse programs like AA and NA among others. There are specially designed substance abuse treatment facilities that feature both inpatient and outpatient options, like The Discovery House.

8 Things to Understand About Heroin Addiction Treatment

The Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

Understanding the primary difference between substance abuse vs. addiction and knowing what you are facing makes it easier to get the most effective help. The difference lies in the control one has over their own lives. While addiction is most often classified at this point as a disease and causes one to actually lose control over their lives, impacting relationships, employment and almost every other area of their lives, abuse implies that control is still being maintained.

Recognizing Substance Abuse Symptoms is Essential

Such things as drinking to the point of blacking out or being arrested for DUI can be indicators of a problem, and such tools as substance abuse worksheets can be helpful in substance abuse evaluation. Education is necessary and will enable not only the user but those around them to be better equipped to face the road ahead.

Getting into Heroin Addiction Treatment Programs

Once it is discovered or recognized, attacking the problem on several fronts can be most effective, such as locating the right substance abuse counselor or substance abuse rehab center that might do better to combine different avenues of treatment, such as counseling and substance abuse group therapy.

Drug Addiction Recovery is Possible

Substance abuse recovery is possible and the substance abuse behaviors can be changed or corrected. The life of the abuser doesn’t have to suffer one day longer, it is vital to proclaim this because without hope there is no way out.

8 Things to Understand About Heroin Addiction Treatment

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders in Heroin Addiction Treatment

Additionally, it is important to know that substance abuse and mental health are often closely linked. If someone has a substance abuse disorder, then healing that individual will do more than correct the abusive behaviors, but will also put them on the path to a better and healthier mental state as well. Substance abuse mental health is the action of healing the whole person, and helping to ensure that a relapse won’t occur.

It Is Possible But It’s Going to Be Tough

The last thing to know is that this road can be expected to be long and hard. Don’t be discouraged, because at the end of the road is that better, healthier and happier life that we all hope and pray for, and with hard work, support and guidance it can and will be done.

10 Interesting Facts About Heroin

What you should know

Credit: Alex Malikov/Shutterstock.com

What you should know

The same poppy plant that blooms with the fragrant red flowers often depicted in beautiful paintings, as well as produces poppy seeds to top breads and bagels, also makes the substances in heroin, one of the world’s most highly addictive opiate drugs.

Heroin is derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted from the seedpods of some varieties of poppy plants.

Heroin goes by the chemical name diacetylmorphine, and it’s the fastest-acting of the opiate drugs. Whether it’s injected, smoked or snorted, heroin enters the brain quickly and can cause a range of physical and psychological effects.

“The United States is currently in the midst of a heroin epidemic,” said Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, who has done research on heroin and is a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The country has experienced heroin epidemics before, but in this latest one, a large set of heroin users are people who have previously abused prescription opioids, he said.

These new users are getting hooked on heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription pain relievers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

But new users bring old problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. In fact, heroin claimed the lives of more than 8,200 Americans in 2013.

Here are 10 interesting facts about this dangerous illegal drug. Reading them may give people good reason to avoid trying heroin in the first place.

Being "on the nod" is a dangerous state

Credit: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock.com

Being “on the nod” is a dangerous state

When heroin first enters the brain, users will feel a sense of euphoria, or rush. But this high is followed by a period when users experience a state that alternates between drowsiness and wakefulness for several hours. It is referred to as being “on the nod.”

“On the nod” is not a medical term, Ciccarone said. He compared it to a college student in a boring lecture who has his head down but is trying to stay awake — his head will nod and drop lower as he gets sleepier, and then his head will eventually jerk awake.

This nodding occurs because heroin is a sedative, and it can cause a person to go from feeling awake but sleepy into such a deep sleep that he or she cannot be shaken awake. This can seem like a desirable state for a heroin user, but it can be the first step on the road toward excess sedation, Ciccarone said.

“Being on the nod is the first baby step on a slippery slope toward overdosing,” he said. [The Drug Talk: 7 New Tips for Today’s Parents]

The nod can be especially dangerous if a person is sedated to the point where he or she loses consciousness. People can slip into a comatose state, and sink into overdose, where breathing becomes severely slowed and sometimes stops, Ciccarone said.Severe itching is a side effect of heroin use

Credit: ampyang | Shutterstock

Severe itching is a side effect of heroin use

When heroin enters the brain, it converts into morphine, which binds to opioid receptors in the brain and in the body. This produces a surge of euphoria, or rush, and a warm flushing of the skin.

But an unexpected side effect of heroin use is severe itchiness. Opiate drugs can cause histamines — the compounds the body produces during allergic reactions — to be released, and histamines irritate the skin, Ciccarone said. Heroin and other opiates can make people’s skin crawl and itch, and they may want to scratch their skin for relief.

A lot of users think something is wrong with their heroin when their skin gets itchy, but it usually means the drug is strong and not contaminated, Ciccarone told Live Science.Products containing heroin were once sold over the counter

Credit: sumire8/Shutterstock.com

Products containing heroin were once sold over the counter

Although it was first made from morphine in 1874, heroin was introduced for medical use in 1898 by The Bayer Company of Germany. Three years earlier, a chemist at Bayer was attempting to create a safer pain reliever that could be a substitute for morphine — one that was less addictive and also had fewer side effects. He accidentally synthesized diacetylmorphine, which he thought was a more dilute form of morphine, and he coined the term “heroin” for it, supposedly for its heroic qualities as a strong medicine.

In the early 1900s, products containing heroin, such as cough syrups and remedies for infant colic, were marketed and sold over the counter in the United States and other countries. Doctors also reported that people who used these products seemed to sleep better.

But within a few years, heroin was found to be two to three times more potent than morphine, and more rapidly absorbed by the brain. Physicians also quickly realized that heroin was even more addictive than morphine.

"Heroin chic" was a '90s fashion movement

Credit: Serg Zastavkin/Shutterstock.com

“Heroin chic” was a ’90s fashion movement

In the mid-1990s, there was a movement in fashion photography referred to as “heroin chic.” It featured waif thin, emaciated fashion models, such as Kate Moss, who looked in photos as if they were strung out on drugs. The look’s other hallmarks included blank stares, dark circles under the eyes and pale skin.

While this cultural phenomenon was taking place in fashion media, a new, cheaper version of heroin was entering the United States from Colombia, and it outcompeted heroin coming from Asia and Southeast Asia, Ciccarone said. The Colombian heroin was so cheap and pure from a street point of view that it increased both the number of heroin users and the depth of their drug use, he said.

In 1997, not long after a fashion photographer died of a heroin overdose, and in the midst of a growing heroin problem in the United States from the influx of cheap heroin, then-President Bill Clinton condemned the “heroin chic” images and advertisements. In a drug policy speech, Clinton suggested the look glamorized addiction in order to sell clothes. [7 Beauty Trends That Are Bad for Your Health]

Around this time, “heroin chic” fell out of favor, and the fashion industry replaced the superskinny look with a new trend: healthier-looking models.Smugglers "body pack" heroin

Credit: bilderpool/Shutterstock.com

Smugglers “body pack” heroin

People who work as so-called “drug mules” transport illegal drugs from one country to another in extremely risky ways. A case report published in 2009 in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings illustrated the dangers involved in trafficking drugs this way.

The report described a 50-year-old woman who was attempting to transport a substantial amount of heroin into the U.S. by carrying it inside her body. To do so, she swallowed 50 pellets of packed heroin, each containing 12 grams of the drug.

Because the woman had a history of drug trafficking, customs agents were suspicious of her, and she was detained at the airport. She was brought to a hospital emergency room, where a physical exam and blood tests showed nothing abnormal about her, but a CT scan of her abdomen revealed numerous rectangular-shaped masses in her colon.

Those rectangular masses, which are visible on the scan, turned out to be pellets of heroin. The woman was given a solution to drink to pass the drugs out of her bowel.

Customs officials recovered 49 intact pellets of packed heroin and took the woman into federal custody.

None of the heroin pellets had caused any infections or obstructions in her body, or opened up while they were within her digestive system.

“Body packing is intensely dangerous,” Ciccarone said. If one of those heroin packets explodes in the woman’s body, she could overdose and go into a coma, he said. If she quickly received treatment for the overdose, she might survive, he added.An anti-heroin campaign ran during the Super Bowl

Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

An anti-heroin campaign ran during the Super Bowl

It may seem odd that among the commercials for beer, cars and junk food that aired during the TV broadcast of the 2015 Super Bowl, there was also a 60-second, anti-heroin spot.

The ad, which can be viewed here, was seen only by people in the St. Louis TV market and was created by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

Designed to increase people’s awareness of the deaths in the St. Louis area attributed to heroin or prescription opioid abuse, the ad shows dramatic images of a mother discovering her young son dead in his room after overdosing on heroin. A cheerful-sounding song plays in the background with lyrics describing the son’s tragic journey from abusing prescription opiates to heroin addiction.

The ad creators said the contrast between the upbeat music and the grim visuals were intentional, meant to make people pay attention to the commercial, talk about it and recognize the extent of the drug problem in their community.

There is often a question about whether to use positive or negative messaging in drugeducation campaigns, Ciccarone said. The first time viewers see an anti-drug ad with negative messaging, such as the one that ran in St. Louis, people might be awed or wowed or bothered by it, he said. But with repeat viewing, people may get immune to these effects.

This commercial did not show what the mother could have done to prevent her son from using heroin, but it could have depicted the steps a parent could take to help an addicted child, Ciccarone said. It could have provided information about calling 911, and having the drug naloxone in a medicine cabinet to administer to help reverse a heroin overdose, he said.Heroin comes in three different colors

Credit: Di Studio/Shutterstock.com

Heroin comes in three different colors

Heroin is sold as a white or brown powder, or as a sticky black substance known as “black tar heroin.”

Heroin that comes from Colombia tends to be brown and chalky, Ciccarone said. Heroin from Pakistan and Afghanistan is also brown, and it tends to be sold in Europe, he noted.

White-powder heroin — which is more refined and pure, and used to arrive from Southeast Asia — is becoming rarer in the United States, Ciccarone said. He said much of the powdered heroin sold in the U.S. has fillers or contaminants added, such as sugars, starches and powdered milk.

“Black tar” heroin comes to the U.S. from Mexico, which is the only country that produces it, Ciccarone said. It looks like a black Tootsie Roll; when the drug is cold, it’s a hard substance, but when it’s warm, it’s sticky, like roofing tar.

Black-tar heroin is formed by an industrial process, so the drug is not purified and is lower-grade, Ciccarone said. It’s also more similar to opium in its chemical makeup than other forms of heroin, and it has other opioid drugs — such as morphine and codeine — in it, he said.Some familiar phrases originated from heroin withdrawal symptoms

Some familiar phrases originated from heroin withdrawal symptoms

People who are addicted to heroin have a very difficult time overcoming their addiction, Ciccarone said. Getting off of heroin is a long-term process that requires a great deal of individual commitment and a lot of patience from family and friends. [5 Bad Habits You Should Still Quit]

But our language has been influenced by what happens when people quit using heroin.  For example, the expression “kicking the habit” is thought to have originated from the kicking leg movements seen in people going through heroin withdrawal.

During heroin use, a person’s muscles become lethargic and heavy, and move slowly, Ciccarone said. So when a heroin abuser goes through withdrawal, his or her leg muscles may become twitchy, crampy and uncontrollable, which can lead to kicking, he said.

Experiencing cold flashes with goose bumps is another heroin withdrawal symptom that may be responsible for the phrase “going cold turkey.”

When a person withdraws from heroin, the tissues in the skin become more active, and it goes from being calm to hyperactive, Ciccarone said. This results in goose bumps and probably led to the notion of going “cold turkey.”

These expressions are old terms and likely originated 50 to 70 years ago, Ciccarone said.Heroin goes by many names

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Heroin goes by many names

On the street, heroin may be referred to as “H,” “horse,” “smack,” “thunder” and “junk.” In some cases, the street word used may refer to the drug’s looks or chemicals, such as brown sugar, black tar or hell dust.

Sometimes, it may be called by a brand name, like Toyota or Gucci, especially in inner-city heroin markets, Ciccarone said.

A street name might also be bragging about the potency of the heroin, such as DOA (dead on arrival) or comatose, in which the dealer is making claims about the supposed quality of the drug, Ciccarone said. The various street names for heroin are not meant as a way for users to speak in code to avoid law enforcement, he noted.

The names for heroin that have long been spoken aloud on the street may be disappearing these days because many users are using text messages and cellphones to obtain the drug, Ciccarone said.Babies can be born addicted to opiates

Credit: stock.xchng

Babies can be born addicted to opiates

A baby who was exposed to heroin in his or her mother’s womb can be born physically addicted to the drug.

“This is not only true for a woman who has used heroin during pregnancy, but it could also apply to any opiate drug, such as a mother who has been taking methadone (a synthetic opiate used to withdraw from heroin) or prescription opiates,” said Barry Lester, a national expert on prenatal drug exposure and a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Brown University Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.

When a pregnant woman takes opiates, the developing embryo is regularly exposed to the drug, Lester said. But once born, the baby is cut off from a drug supply it has become dependent on, and goes through withdrawal.

Known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), its symptoms — such as excessive crying, slow weight gain, fever, irritability and vomiting — usually take about 72 hours to appear in the newborn.

“Hospital nurseries are seeing a major uptick of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Lester told Live Science. He said this is due to the growing number of women who are abusing prescription opioids.

Although the majority of babies born to women who abuse opiates during pregnancy are born addicted to these drugs, studies have found that about 25 to 30 percent of these babies never develop NAS symptoms, Lester said. [7 Ways Pregnant Women Affect Babies]

Researchers are trying to understand why this happens, and Lester said they suspect there is something fundamentally different about these babies, both genetically and in the makeup of their brains, that may protect them.

Babies who develop NAS need treatment. They are put back on opiates, either morphine or methadone, and these drugs are gradually withdrawn over time until the newborn no longer has symptoms, Lester said.

He said it’s unclear whether babies born with NAS have any long-term effects from this early opiate exposure because the studies done so far have shown inconsistent results.

Heroin Isn’t The Scariest Part Of The Drug Crisis

Heroin shows up on the front pages of newspapers almost every day. But when it comes to drug issues you should worry about, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. With issues on the table like needle-acquired infections, synthetic drugs and prescription abuse, there’s a lot more than street drugs to be afraid of.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

In 2014 (the most recent year for which there’s data available), there were 10,574 heroin deaths in the U.S. But in the same year, deaths attributed to prescription opioids numbered 18,893 — itself a 16% increase over the prior year. That means prescription painkillers account for 40% of all drug poisoning deaths.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

One possible reason for those numbers? More than 50% of patients with opioid prescriptions end up with leftover pills. Patients aren’t getting the information they need to safely store or dispose of a partially used prescription, which means those prescriptions are more and more available for abuse.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has 50-100 times the potency of morphine, and 25-50 times that of heroin. It can even be mixed into heroin without the user knowing. The scariest part? It’s also available to anyone with a prescription. A fentanyl overdose is what famously killed Prince, and it’s alarmingly easy to do.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Images: AP Photo/Kelley McCall, Shutterstock, Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

Fentanyl isn’t the only synthetic drug you should worry about, though. In July 2016, at least 130 people in New York overdosed on synthetic drug K2 in a single week. K2, sometimes known as Spice, has a stronger effect on cannabinoid receptors in the brain than marijuana—but without the plant’s calming properties.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

For people trying to recover from opioid addictions, kratom has reportedly been a helpful option. Teas made from the plant’s leaves have milder, opioid-like effects, which some scientists are researching. What’s so scary? The DEA has threatened to ban the plant, and it still isn’t out of the woods with authorities.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Image: Getty, Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

If it’s still just heroin you’re scared of, you might as well think about its effects on public health. Serious bloodstream and heart valve infections have skyrocketed recently among people who inject drugs. In fact, 16% of infectiveendocarditis cases are due to the injection of illicit drugs. Now that’s scary.

The Social Impacts of Drug Trafficking and Heroin in America

Afghanistan Produces 90 Percent of World Supply of Opium…

The tragic video of a two-year-old crying over the body of her mother who collapsed from an overdose at a Dollar Store in Massachusetts has brought attention to the epidemic of cheap heroin in the United States.

Drug trafficking is not just a problem in America’s cities it is the main problem. Turf wars by drug dealers account for most of the murders in the United States. Drug-related shootings are at all-time highs. Crimes by drug addicts account for most of the prostitution, robberies, and burglaries in America. Prisons are packed with heroin users along with psychiatric wards and graveyards.

For eight years President Obama has been the commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan, a country that produces 90% of the opium in the world. ¹   With a stroke of his pen Obama could shut off most of the drug supply to 17 million heroin and opium addicts. Instead, his legacy is the same as George W. Bush. He allowed drugs to flow unimpeded out of Afghanistan for both terms of his presidency.

In a September 17, 2016 speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, President Obama insisted that it would be a personal insult to him if African Americans do not vote for Hillary Clinton. He said that only she can continue his legacy of support for the black community.

Wait. A legacy of support for the black community. Really?

Unemployment rates have not dropped in black communities during Obama’s presidency. Home ownership rates are lower among blacks than before he took office. African-Americans are experiencing stagnant wages and diminishing wealth just like everyone else. Racial tension is at its highest level ever in the United States. Finally, there is an epidemic of drug use and violence plaguing black and white communities all over the country.

Since Obama is now a lame-duck it is more important to examine the record of his hand-picked successor, Hillary Clinton. What did she do about the drug problem in black communities while she was in office during Obama’s first four years?

While acting as the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was responsible for the activities of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

The mission of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) is to combat international crime and illegal drugs, and their impact on the United States, its citizens, and partner nations ²

Last year the INL received over four billion dollars to distribute among five thousand drug interdiction personnel around the world. ³ In 2013 the DEA reported that over the four years that Hillary managed the multi-billion dollar program at the State Department, the flow of drugs north from Mexico increased:

The availability of heroin continued to increase in 2012, likely due to high levels of heroin production in Mexico and Mexican traffickers expanding into white powder heroin markets in the eastern and midwest United States.⁴

The DEA further reported that during the years that Hillary Clinton was in office so much Mexican heroin flooded into the country that the price of the narcotic dropped to the point that it was easier to obtain than prescription pain medicine.⁵

OK, so Hillary did nothing to stop the flow of heroin from Mexico when she was in office.  But what did she do about the flow of drugs out of Afghanistan?   The UN Office of Drugs and Crime provides the answer.  It reported that opium production in Afghanistan reached a ten-year peak in Hillary’s final year. ⁶

So much for Hillary Clinton’s efforts to stop the flow of heroin into African-American communities in the United States  when she was in a position do something about it.

Hillary’s website describes her 5-point plan to save Americans from drug addiction. It is Band-Aid therapy on steroids.

First, she will combat narcotics trafficking by giving money to public schools for education.  Every parent knows it is much easier to keep bad stuff away from children than to teach them to resist temptation.

Next she will provide two million first responders with $400 injection devices to administer drugs to people who are having overdoses. Keep the cheap dope away from them and they won’t overdose and need a $400 injection.

Next, she will provide free medical services to drug addicts.  Again, there would be no addicts if cheap drugs weren’t available everywhere.

Finally, she will make the criminal justice system focus more on drug rehabilitation than on drug interdiction.  There goes the last hope to address the central issue of restricting the flow of illegal narcotics into the country.

Despite the assessment by the DEA that the largest flow of heroin into America is coming from Mexico, Hillary has ridiculed the idea of building a wall on the border. She proposes to do nothing at all about the flow of opium from the poppy fields of Afghanistan.

That is the legacy that Obama insists Hillary Clinton must continue.

For 7 years, Stephen A. Molling was the Executive Director of a non-profit youth development program in East Baltimore. He has witnessed the devastating effect of heroin on urban families first-hand. He is the author of The Uragon Protocol.

String of Chillicothe heroin overdoses believed to be connected to Columbus

The Chillicothe Police Departments says a string of heroin overdoses Friday night could be linked to a strong batch of the drug that led to 35 overdose calls in the Linden area earlier this week.

Sgt. Lucas Hansen says it’s not yet confirmed, but they are investigating whether the two incidents are related. He says they believe the heroin was laced with a very dangerous and potent opiate, possibly Fentanyl.

He says police went on 11 calls for possible overdoses within 9 hours on Friday. One man in his 60’s died from an overdose. Eight people were saved with the overdose reversal drug Nalaxone, or commonly referred to as Narcan.

Sgt. Hansen hit one person with Nalaxone twice and saved a life last night.

“It’s utter chaos as far as the family is concerned and the friends that are in the room. Our main focus is to make sure that we save that life,” he says. “We’re not there to get people into trouble or to try to take people to jail. We’re there to make sure first and foremost that your life is saved.”

In addition to calls for service within city limits, the Ross County Sheriff’s Office says they responded to 2 overdoses Friday night.

Former addict Shannon Williamson says she knows firsthand the harrowing panic and fear felt when a friend is overdosing.

“It’s scary. It’s very scary when you’ve got someone overdosing in front of you. You’re trying to do as much as you can to help them and you can’t. You’ve got to call the squad,” she says. “If someone OD’s you should call the squad or something rather that you’re scared you’re going to get in trouble. You’re not going to get in trouble, at least you’re helping save someone’s life.”

Williamson has been clean for a year now. “Almost losing everything. It gets a hold of you. Heroin’s the devil,” she says.

Williamson says she’s looking to leave Chillicothe, the place she grew up and calls home.

“It’s just getting bad. I don’t even want to raise my kids here anymore,” she says.

Police ask anyone with information to call: 740-773-1191. You can submit tips anonymously. Sgt. Hansen also urges addicts not to be afraid to call for help.

“If anybody is aware of any possibly overdoses in the city, please don’t hesitate to call 911,” he says.

Ohio’s Information and Treatment Referral Line: 1-877-275-6364; M-F, 8am-5pm

Columbus Police Sgt. Richard Weiner says he can’t confirm any connection between the suspected overdoses in Columbus and Chillicothe.


The Chillicothe Police Department released the following warning to all residents:

The Chillicothe and Ross County community has seen an increase in the number of suspected drug overdoses today. The Director of the Heroin Partnership Project, Ross County Health Commissioner, Ross County Coroner, Ross County Sheriff, and the Chillicothe Police Chief are warning heroin users and their family members of a potentially fatal form of heroin being used in the community. The partners warn all persons to avoid using the drug. If a person elects to use the drug, please have resources available to perform life saving measures should an overdose occur.  If anyone needs assistance to help an overdose patient, please call 911. If a heroin user needs help in any way, please call 911 or the Crisis Center at 211.  We strongly urge anyone who is using this drug to stop and seek treatment.

Heroin Just Killed My Baby


I try not to enter Brendan’s bedroom. It has been four months and it still smells of death. Today, as I open the door nausea overtakes me. I placed a small rug down to cover the vomit stain, but the edges of Brendan’s body fluids still peek out, taunting me, daring me to break down and never recover.

His hockey equipment is lying on the carpet with the bag open so that his sweaty items don’t grow mold. His empty soda cans and old gum wrappers are still on his nightstand where he left them.

All of the items from his brand new custom ordered 2015 orange RAV4 are stacked on his bed: a box of chocolates, his school work, a Columbine keychain, his NA tags that mark his sobriety, and all of the garbage I could not bear to throw away.

Heroin addiction has ruined our family. The day my 15-year-old son, Brendan, took his first hit, he changed my life. Yes, not just his, but mine too. And not just mine, everyone who loved him.

My daughter, Haley, found him unresponsive. She is 12 and has never gone back downstairs to her bedroom. She probably never will. She sleeps on the floor next to me. Most nights she wakes me, her long blonde hair drenched with sweat from nightmares.

My husband, Scott, is a retired police officer. He’s seen grief before; I can’t hide it from him. Nowadays, he spends most of his time guiding me through this emotional minefield littered with sixteen years of breathtaking memories.

We are all on a merry-go-round we can never escape. So we stay on this ride. Dizzy, sick, tired, and scared. No peace. No quiet. Only the merry-go-round with these silly stuffed animals on Brendan’s bed, staring at you with blame and shame and sadness. You vomit, you cry, and yet you ride round and round.

Folded on his bed are several dirty shirts that still smell like Brendan. And right there, pinned to his wall, screaming out to me, is his retired Columbine jersey — number 19 — signed by all of his teammates and presented to me at his funeral. The blue is too bright from never having been worn or washed.


Suddenly, I see images on the floor, pictures in fast forward, a movie that storms across my brain without notice… Brendan dying.

I jump on top of Brendan and straddle him on his bed. His eyes are tiny slits. I can see some white, but I’m afraid to pull back his eyelids. He is barely breathing. Like an animal, I scream to Scott. What is happening? Why won’t he wake up?

Scott pushes me off and drags Brendan to the floor and begins CPR. I watch as Scott chokes on black liquid coming from Brendan’s mouth. I don’t understand what is happening. A rancid smell of vomit begins to suffocate me. Black blood and a vile bodily fluid begin to cover the carpet around Brendan’s head.

I have to get out of his room before it swallows me. But I feel like I’m knee-deep in molasses and I can hear Brendan whispering. My mind skips like a flat rock on a serene lake’s surface. Then I realize my fate… to relive this horror over and over, forever.

The living room is filled with firemen, police officers, and EMTs. Where did they come from? When are we leaving? Why isn’t Brendan in the ambulance yet? Someone is talking about where to land the chopper. Just get my boy to the hospital! There is an awkward cocoon of silent madness enveloping me. A vacuum of untouched insanity. A prelude to perfectly woven horror, and all of a sudden Scott walks in and pops that bubble.

He is walking in slow motion, staring at me. His voice cracks… a sentence, just five words: “Brendan did not make it.” His arms reach out to catch me as I fall to the kitchen floor. No, oh God, NO! Not my baby. Not my boy. He kneels down and holds me. I can’t breathe. There is no air. I am suffocating. Scott cradles me, softly crying and saying, “I know, I know.” But no one can know. I carried Brendan inside of me; he can’t be gone. He just can’t. Oh God, no. I begin to gag. My stomach wretches. I begin to quiver uncontrollably. Heroin just killed my baby.

On the shelf next to Brendan’s bed, I have a beautiful urn with an angel crying. It holds his ashes. Maybe if I leave him there he will come back to life and be with me again. Maybe things will be different this time. Maybe we will laugh together again. Maybe if I don’t touch Brendan’s ashes, his death won’t be real.

I Raised a Heroin Addict–And I Learned Something Every Mom Should Know

My son Kevin is a heroin addict in long-term recovery. What could I have done differently?

This question haunted me for many, many years. Should I have taken him back to school to get a forgotten book? When he left his report on the counter in fifth grade should I have left it there instead of bringing it to school? He had ADD so organizing was hard for him. Did I do too much? Did he never learn to be accountable for his own actions? Was I too worried about him failing a stupid sixth grade math test? Should I have let him fail and learn the result of not putting in the work instead of making him study against his will? Should have, would have, could have were constantly swirling in my head. Tiny voices blaming, blaming…

Yes, I should have let him fall on his face when he was little. The consequences of their errors grow as they do. I didn’t have to catch him when he fell —- I was holding on so tightly he never really fell.  And when he went away to college he fell hard. So yes, I should have let him fail more when he was young.

just say no

In all honesty, that is the one thing I feel I could have changed. I don’t know what else I could have done differently that would have gotten him to ‘just say no’ to drugs. Above is an old newspaper clipping of my son and his friends from the neighborhood with their ‘just say no’ signs. They marched around the neighborhood chanting. He wore his D.A.R.E. (Drug Addiction Resistance Education) T-shirt forever. We spoke about drugs and drinking and sex. Once, when my son was a freshman in high school he had some friends over. Two of the girls brought booze into my home in soda screw top bottles (OK, lesson one: no outside drinks allowed in my home). They also had some joints on them. My son and his friend came to me and told me what was going on. THEY CAME AND TOLD ME. Parents were called, girls cried, drama ensued. BUT HE TOLD ME. How, then, did this kid end up a freakin’ heroin addict? The one who told. The one who knew better. No matter how much we think ‘they’ve got this’, they don’t. Life is not black and white, and adolescence is the murkiest of grays. We cannot rest on our laurels, no matter how great our kids are – they are navigating a mine field.  Kids do dumb things, but many stupid choices don’t have the dire consequences too many families are facing today in eye of this epidemic.

Part of the problem is that we just didn’t know. We didn’t know to say, ‘stay away from OxyContin kids, because it will lead to heroin’. We knew to say, ‘don’t drink – alcoholism runs in your family – but if you make poor decisions, don’t compound them by driving. Call us, stay where you are’. We knew to say, ‘Don’t have sex, you’re too young, but if you do, wear protection. If you get a girl pregnant, please come to us, we will work through this together’.  We knew to say, ‘don’t do drugs, they are dangerous, people get addicted’.  We didn’t know to say, and I wish with all my heart we had, ‘but if you get addicted, please come to us and we will help you. We will be here for you because we love you.’  Of course this OxyContin thing wasn’t on our radar. Who could ever imagine their kid would go so far as to stick a needle in their vein?  I’ll tell you, my son didn’t think he’d ever do something so stupid either, even when he was addicted to OxyContin, until he did.

I can’t re-think what we didn’t know. But I can warn parents of young children today. Because now we do know about OxyContin and the path it forges to heroin. There are many ‘not my kid’ campaigns out there. Parents today need to arm themselves with information about what drugs are popular with what age groups in their hometown and what the warning signs are.  They also need to have a plan about what they would do if they find out their child is making dangerous choices. Also, what’s their plan if they find out some other kid is making dangerous choices. Do they tell the other parent?  What will they do if their child came to them and told them they were addicted? What will they do to make it possible for their child to even feel capable of telling? Have a plan in place. Maybe even read a few books. Understand what enabling looks like. It can look a lot like love…

Co-dependence and enabling isn’t something that only occurs with addiction. I was an enabler-in-training for years. We need to learn to recognize when a child should do something for themselves, even if it’s hard to watch them not do it and pay the consequences.  If your Senior won’t fill out college applications then maybe he’s not ready for college.  Many of the things I learned in Alanon about detaching and not doing for someone what they can do for themselves would have come in handy during those teenage years. Would it have made a difference to my son? Would he have not become an addict? Who knows. But I do know that I would have been more equipped to deal with the addict who came to possess him.

Don’t just hope your children will never be exposed to drugs. Assume they will. Talk to your kids, speak to your friends, and  have a battle plan in place. If your school or town has informational meetings about this epidemic, show up, even if your kid is only 7 or 8. Be informed. Be ready. We need to fight this epidemic on all fronts. If your town does not have any form of parent education, Start the Conversation. All parents of young kids should listen to addicts in recovery speak. They are your neighbor’s children.  My son would tell you he had a nice childhood. He played baseball and soccer and took karate. We had a good relationship. He knew his parents loved him, and  – he did know better. What made him make bad choices in spite of knowing better? What changed from the age of 14 to the age of 16, when the drinking began? Murky gray. Minefield.

Recognize addiction can happen to your child. The epidemic is real. Be afraid. Be prepared to fight for your child’s life.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Heroin overdoses will now be considered homicides, coroner says

Coroner Charles E. Kiessling said Wednesday it is time to stop dancing around the issue and “call it what it is.”

He now lists homicide as the manner of death on death certificates in cases where heroin has been determined to be the cause.

“If you are selling heroin to someone and they die, isn’t that homicide?” he asked.

Calling it accidental down plays the severity of the situation, he said, noting there were approximately two dozen drug overdose deaths in the county last year.

Coroners have the option to list as the manner of death as natural, accidental, suicide, homicide or undetermined, Kiessling said.

He had been listing overdose deaths as accidental but said that category fits those who die in traffic accidents or a fall off a ladder.

“If you are dealing drugs you are a murderer,” he said. “You may not know who you are killing.”

Before making the change to homicide Kiessling said he consulted with Harrisburg lawyer Susan Shanaman, who is solicitor for the Pennsylvania State Coroner’s Association of which he is president.

The National Association of Medical Examiners says coroners have the discretion to call overdose deaths homicide or accidental, she said. They meet the definition of death at the hands of another, she said.

Because dealers cut heroin with a variety of substances, buyers don’t know what they are getting, she said.

In her opinion, Kiessling recognizes there is an epidemic and “and we should call drug dealers what they are – dealing death.”

Kiessling admits he is fired up. As a registered nurse, “I have experience on the ground,” he said.

It became personal when recently he had to pronounce the son of a friend dead from an overdose, he said.

The victim’s mother had asked him to talk to her son about getting off drugs but he overdosed before he had the opportunity, Kiessling said.

“This hit me very personally,” he said. “I don’t care if I offend people. Drug dealers are murderers and belong in state prison.”

Despite that opinion, he said he also realizes “we can’t arrest ourselves out of this mess.”

He plans to put out something statewide letting others know he is listing heroin overdose deaths homicides.

“Some will agree (with his stance) and some will not,” Kiessling predicts. “I just think it is the right thing to do.”

The exception to listing homicide as the manner of death would be in cases where prescription drugs also were a factor, he explained.

Doctors have a license to prescribe drugs, he said. “Drug dealers aren’t licensed to do anything,” he said.

Shanaman said she is discussing with other coroners the position Kiessling has taken.

Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelly has spoken with Kiessling but he wants to get additional opinions before he changes from accidental to homicide, he said.

His office has investigated six confirmed or suspected drug overdose deaths this year, he said.

A coroner’s opinion on the manner of death is not binding on police.

It is part of the information law enforcement considers in determining if a crime was committed and can someone be charged with it, said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

Law enforcement will give Kiessling’s homicide opinions the appropriate weight in an investigation, he said.

“Coroner Kiessling and I agree that heroin is a killer,” Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt said. “We both have been witness to it.

“However, it is important for the public to understand that a coroner’s ruling that a heroin overdose death is homicide is not a legal finding of homicide.”

Drug delivery resulting in death cases remain difficult to prove and prosecute, Linhardt said.

“In fact, we have been able to prosecute only a handful of such cases with varying degrees of success,” he said.