The Rise of Heroin Addictions

    • I’ll never forget the frantic phone call I received from a family member about a year ago
      informing me that Robbie had died of a heroin overdose. Robbie was the 19 year old
      child of one of my oldest friends in the world and he was a bundle of energy and
      personality 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 just
      like that, he was gone. Taken by a drug that has become all too common in the lives of
      adolescents all over the country. The reality is stark: heroin deaths have skyrocketed
      in the last decade, nearly quadrupling between 2002 and 2013, and a large share of
      new users are 18 to 25 year olds living in suburban or rural areas. While heroin was
      once thought of as the drug of choice for junkies in the inner-city, the drug is now king in
      places just like Brevard County. The prevalence of heroin use in our community is
      evident in the number of people who struggle with heroin addiction that we admit to our
      intensive addiction program at Florida Counseling Centers. Heroin addiction is a
      growing epidemic across the country and it is clearly a problem right here in our own
      community.
      Why? Why have so many of our young people turned to such a powerful and addictive
      substance? On the surface there are clear reasons. Doctors no longer write
      prescriptions for the powerful opiate based pain killers as quickly they did a few years
      ago. 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: less
      access to prescription pain killers has yielded the resurgence of heroin.
      In addition to the more quantifiable reasons people are struggling with heroin, I believe
      there 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 for
      more. 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 in
      materialism 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-lived
      suburban life. Enter heroin: one of the best short-term fixes for a boring day that did
      not 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 the
      heroin epidemic?
      1. Provide opportunities for people to pursue purpose and meaning in life. I asked
      Denny Kolsch, the clinical director of our Intensive Addictions Program at Florida
      Counseling Centers, how he found freedom from his own battle with heroin over
      10 years ago. He described the power of one mission trip to Nicaragua as the
      catalytic event that prompted his turn toward serving other people. This one
      week-long season of service provided an enduring sense that his life could be
    • meaningful and positively impact others. His addiction ended shortly after this
      shift in his belief about himself.
      2. Teach people to practice the discipline of gratitude. The opposite of our high
      expectation culture is the idea that what we have is enough. Research
      demonstrates that taking time to record one or two things we are grateful for
      every day is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. An attitude
      of gratefulness is also highly correlated with continued sobriety and relapse
      prevention.
      3. Eliminate the stigma for treatment of addictions. For many years, treatment for
      addictions has brought a sense of shame on both patients and their families.
      Especially for families with young people struggling with addiction, there has
      been a sense that somehow parents have failed because their children have
      fallen 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 from
      professionals who care. We will have to make it “O.K.” to ask for help.
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