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Is There a Heroin Epidemic in Idaho?

“I had someone at the Houston police station shoot me with heroin so I could do a story about it. The experience was a special kind of hell. I came out understanding full well how one could be addicted to ‘smack,’ and quickly.”

~ Dan Rather

Nearly everyone is familiar with the dangers of heroin – but the heroin epidemic in Idaho goes far beyond the typical expectations and stereotypes of the opioid drug. Depicted on the television screen as a highly addictive black substance found in seedy motels and back alleys, the opioid drug is rarely (if ever) pointed to as a drug that should be legalized in the name of personal freedom, not to mention free trade. This is common sense, primarily because heroin presents such a danger to its users – both in the short-term and the long-term. However, heroin use does not always fit the stereotype. With heroin abuse and addiction on the rise around the United States, and within the state of Idaho, the picture has become much more complicated in recent years. Middle-class Americans and Idaho residents are now more likely than ever to use heroin, and overdose deaths due to this increase are also on the rise. But where does this heroin epidemic in Idaho stem from? This is the major question that this post discusses. While the answer may not necessarily be simple, the resulting discussion makes at least one thing clear: the rise in heroin use and addiction is innately tied with the opioid epidemic in the United States as a whole. Both heroin and prescription opioids originate from the same drug and are therefore integrally tied together both in their symptoms and their addictive properties. The question that remains, then, is what can be done about it.

Understanding the Heroin Epidemic

Specific figures regarding the heroin epidemic around the United States and in Idaho may speak louder than simple words about how serious the issue is. Examining the epidemic even within Idaho itself results in surprising addiction statistics, particularly in regards to heroin as a dangerous drug.

“Idaho doesn’t have estimates of total heroin use within state borders, but police tallied 120 heroin arrests in 2012, making up 1.1 percent of all drug arrests. That was a 60 percent increase from the previous year when 75 heroin arrests were made.”

As a type of opioid, heroin use has been on the rise within the state for years and has recently taken a dramatic jump. Consider some of the following statistics as a painting of the picture:

  •  As of 2013, the drug overdose rate in Idaho was twice that of the rate less than fifteen years before, in 1999
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has stated that opioid drugs take a life in Idaho every 45 hours
  • Idaho State Police seized 800% more heroin in 2015 than just the year before
  • Similarly, heroin cases handled by state drug enforcement jumped by 775%
  • Prescription opioid users often move from painkillers to heroin because of its cheaper price
  • Most of those who meet the criteria for a drug use disorder do not receive the treatment that they need – close to 90%

Clearly, heroin use is on the rise both in the state of Idaho and around the United States. But why, specifically, has heroin use been on the rise? The clearest answer is found in the list above – namely, that people tend to move from prescription opioids (which are also addictive) to heroin after becoming addicted or dependent since heroin is much cheaper than other forms of opioids. In other words, the rise of heroin use and abuse within Idaho and around the United States does not necessarily originate from an innate desire for the drug. Instead, the heroin epidemic in Idaho can largely be traced to the addictive properties of opioids as a whole, which then causes people to seek out the cheaper (and much more dangerous) heroin option. In a phrase, heroin has gained momentum because it is cheaper than some prescription painkillers. Dr. Joseph Abate, the medical director for a nonprofit medical facility in Idaho, pulls no punches in his description of the heroin epidemic:

“That’s an attraction to people who are using opioids without a doctor’s recommendation. But people who have been on opioids with a doctor’s recommendation turn to heroin too because they have a problem with tolerance to pain, especially younger people. They may start on low doses of pain medication, then they take more and more to get the same amount of relief. Part of the rise of heroin is that people start on painkillers for legitimate reasons and then it just gets out of control. In the past people received the message that pain could be controlled with the right dosage, but now we’ve learned the hard way that it does nothing more than make a person worse over the long term rather than better.”

Key to understanding the heroin epidemic, then, is understanding that all forms of opioids (prescription painkillers included) are highly addictive for those who use them. With this in mind, it is beyond important to be careful about how prescription opioids are used. Simply determining to ‘just say no’ to heroin itself may not be enough to avoid falling into the heroin epidemic in Idaho.

Idaho and the Heroin Epidemic

While the heroin epidemic in Idaho may not exist in a vacuum – what with the opioid issues present all around the United States – the state certainly faces its own specific set of issues when it comes to drug use, abuse and addiction. Giving context to the issue, a local news station quotes a former police officer regarding the rise of heroin in Idaho:

“A lot of it we first started to see more on the East Coast and in the Midwest, but now we are seeing quite a bit of it out this way also. Every state is dealing with a rise in it and there are various different reasons why that’s going on. We’re seeing the stigma go away with a lot of various drugs. What we used to call street-level drugs, we’re not seeing that stigma anymore. Prescription drugs were dispensed like candy, quite honestly, for a long time. And people started using those and have become addicted to those… well now, those restrictions have really clamped down on the dispensing of those and so the next thing to go to is heroin because now the pills aren’t readily available.”

In other words, the major rise of heroin in Idaho reflects the rising epidemic around the country: namely, the addictive nature of prescription opioids as a whole. This reality in Idaho directly contrasts the stereotypical image of the ‘heroin problem’ in American cities. Instead of dark alleys and lines of strung-out people, a great deal of heroin abuse and addiction in Idaho takes place within the home – and has now penetrated the middle class in Idaho. As a drug of the middle class, heroin can impact soccer moms, white-collar workers, public servants, university students, and teachers just as much as it can affect anyone else. The heroin epidemic in the state of Idaho directly reflects the national statistics regarding heroin use and abuse, with the numbers behind the heroin epidemic standing as a stark reminder of reality:

  • 39 percent jump in heroin-related deaths year over year
  • 90 percent of first-time heroin users are white
  • 75 percent of heroin addicts first used prescription opioids
  • 50 percent increase in opium production in Mexico in 2015
  • $133 million in federal funds will be used to fight the epidemic – yet it remains unabated in recent years

Significant increases in heroin use were found in groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes. The gaps between men and women, low and higher incomes, and people with Medicaid and private insurance have narrowed in the past decade.”

~ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What to Do About the Heroin Epidemic

The discussion above makes it clear that there is, in fact, a heroin epidemic in Idaho and around the country. But what can be done about this rising drug issue, primarily on a personal and family level? First and foremost, there are thankfully heroin addiction treatment options for those living in Idaho. Addiction to heroin, or any other opioid for that matter, is treatable. This means that hope is not out of reach, no matter how long an individual has been addicted to the drug. Heroin rehab represents the best way deal directly with addiction to the drug, since it allows individuals to enter a safe space for detoxification and subsequently equips them with the coping tools and strategies to stay sober for the long-term. It is worth noting here that quitting heroin cold turkey, completely on your own, is not recommended. Given the various withdrawal symptoms of coming off of the drug, doing so can actually be dangerous. The withdrawal symptoms for heroin detox include some, or all, of the following:

  • Abdominal pains and aches
  • Sweating and chills (often alternating)
  • Shakiness in extremities
  • Increase symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Severe mood swings, including increased anger or agitation
  • An intensified craving for heroin

Because of these intense withdrawal symptoms, heroin detox and rehab in Idaho can help individuals safely quit the drug completely while simultaneously setting them up for successful recovery beyond the initial days and weeks. That said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. If you are currently using prescription opioids as painkillers, it is beyond crucial to do everything that you can to prevent this use from turning into an addiction. There are a few different precautions that you can take to avoid heroin addiction altogether:

  • Ask your doctor if there are any alternative options to taking the prescription opioid
  • Avoid using opioids in conjunction with any other drug (i.e. marijuana or alcohol) as cross-addiction is common
  • Address any issue when it arises – if you begin taking more than the prescribed dose, get help and advice immediately

The rising heroin epidemic in Idaho has serious consequences for the state, and heroin addiction can have serious consequences for your personal state of health. If you are struggling with heroin addiction, do not hesitate to reach out for the help you need today. If you still have questions about the heroin epidemic in Idaho, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us today.