I’ll never forget the frantic phone call I received from a family member about a year agoinforming me that Robbie had died of a heroin overdose. Robbie was the 19 year oldchild of one of my oldest friends in the world and he was a bundle of energy andpersonality from the time he was a little boy. Even though he was much younger than I,I was always a sucker for his winning smile and his wicked sense of humor. And justlike that, he was gone. Taken by a drug that has become all too common in the lives ofadolescents all over the country. The reality is stark: heroin deaths have skyrocketedin the last decade, nearly quadrupling between 2002 and 2013, and a large share ofnew users are 18 to 25 year olds living in suburban or rural areas. While heroin wasonce thought of as the drug of choice for junkies in the inner-city, the drug is now king inplaces just like Brevard County. The prevalence of heroin use in our community isevident in the number of people who struggle with heroin addiction that we admit to ourintensive addiction program at Florida Counseling Centers. Heroin addiction is agrowing epidemic across the country and it is clearly a problem right here in our owncommunity.Why? Why have so many of our young people turned to such a powerful and addictivesubstance? On the surface there are clear reasons. Doctors no longer writeprescriptions for the powerful opiate based pain killers as quickly they did a few yearsago. With a lack of availability to prescriptions some people turn directly to heroin,which is derived from the same opium. Recent research indicates that as many as 75%of heroin addicts started out by using prescription pain killers. So the link is clear: lessaccess to prescription pain killers has yielded the resurgence of heroin.In addition to the more quantifiable reasons people are struggling with heroin, I believethere is a much deeper catalyst to the resurgence of the drug in our society in particular.American culture has increasingly emphasized high expectations and the quest formore. Our girls are taught to have Kardashian like bodies clothed in designer outfits.Our boys are taught about manhood by their favorite rap artist and find identity inmaterialism and a false oversexualized understanding of what it means to be a man.For our kids, enough is never enough and there is a growing sense of low self-esteem,discontentment, and in some cases a lack of appreciation and gratitude for a well-livedsuburban life. Enter heroin: one of the best short-term fixes for a boring day that didnot provide any Instagram worthy moments and that falls short of the “American dream”we are entitled to live.What now? What can we do as a culture, and as a community, to begin to reverse theheroin epidemic?1. Provide opportunities for people to pursue purpose and meaning in life. I askedDenny Kolsch, the clinical director of our Intensive Addictions Program at FloridaCounseling Centers, how he found freedom from his own battle with heroin over10 years ago. He described the power of one mission trip to Nicaragua as thecatalytic event that prompted his turn toward serving other people. This oneweek-long season of service provided an enduring sense that his life could be
meaningful and positively impact others. His addiction ended shortly after thisshift in his belief about himself.2. Teach people to practice the discipline of gratitude. The opposite of our highexpectation culture is the idea that what we have is enough. Researchdemonstrates that taking time to record one or two things we are grateful forevery day is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. An attitudeof gratefulness is also highly correlated with continued sobriety and relapseprevention.3. Eliminate the stigma for treatment of addictions. For many years, treatment foraddictions has brought a sense of shame on both patients and their families.Especially for families with young people struggling with addiction, there hasbeen a sense that somehow parents have failed because their children havefallen prey to drugs or alcohol. If we are ever going to beat heroin as a culture,we will have to make a concerted effort to normalize getting treatment fromprofessionals who care. We will have to make it “O.K.” to ask for help.
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