Last week, David Muir, anchor with 20/20, investigated the heroin epidemic, specifically in New Hampshire. The one-hour episode was heartbreaking, and yet another reminder that addiction knows no boundaries, and is an issue that we all need to be concerned about. We were reminded that 129 people a day die from drug-related causes, and drugs now kill more people than car accidents and guns. While there have been strides made at the state and federal level, particularly with the recent funding announcement, many treatment centers across the country have wait lists (sometimes weeks or months long), and access to addiction treatment is still limited to many sufferers.
Faces of Addiction
The investigation followed several people who were struggling with their addiction. The first, Aaron, had only been using heroin for a year, but was in jeopardy of losing his wife, son, and family. While Aaron wanted to get help, he struggled for months to find a bed somewhere. In the meantime, he continued to use despite several overdoses, no longer for the high but just to offset the unbearable withdrawal and to function at a normal level. While he clearly had an immense amount of love for his child and his family, heroin had its hold, and we even see him shooting up in the bathroom while his child was in the house. His wife, who was in treatment herself, was no longer taking his calls to protect her own recovery. When Aaron finally made it to treatment, he stayed just a few short days. Not long after, he overdosed and died. Seeing his family and friends at the funeral home was a scene all too familiar to anyone who has been in recovery for a considerable amount of time- and it never stops being heartbreaking. Another life taken by heroin, that could possibly have been prevented if treatment were more accessible.
A Candle Extinguished
The other focus of the investigation was a couple, who had both gotten sober and were trying to stay clean for the sake of their young infant daughter. They were trying their best to make ends meet and provide for their family, but the Subutex that they needed to stay clean costs $17/day, meaning that for them, there was only money for one prescription. Their child was born addicted to heroin, but had miraculously come to good health, and again, there was no questioning the love both Matt and Savannah had for their child and each other. However, Matt had pending charges related to his drug use, and instead of being offered treatment, was sent to jail with a $5000 bond- an amount of money they didn’t have. Savannah, no longer able to afford her Subutex prescription, left their daughter with Matt’s mother, disappeared for months, and at the conclusion of 20/20’s investigation, was in jail too.
A Call to Action
The special also showed us others involved in the fight against heroin and opiates- parents, friends, emergency medical technicians, and doctors, all of whom have been confronted again and again with the ravages of heroin addiction, and reiterated that there is much more to be done. We saw children as young as 11 and 12, being trained in school on how to administer Narcan for heroin overdoses. The scope of the devastation caused by this epidemic is growing by the day, and nearly everyone in this country has been affected by opiate addiction, whether personally or in someone they know and care about.
What Can Be Done?
The key here is treatment and prevention. We need to continue to seek out ways in which comprehensive addiction treatment (not only detox, but treatment for the underlying addiction) can be made more readily available to those who want it. When addicts such as ourselves have that moment of willingness, there needs to be an option for them to get help right away, rather than have to wait weeks or months, during which time that willingness can easily go away. Further, we need to have prevention programs that educate families and children about the dangers of drug use, so that future generations aren’t doomed to repeat these struggles.
Help is Available
The special can be seen here. If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin or opiates, call the treatment professionals at Serenity Acres, 1-800-203-2024, and we will do whatever we can to get you the help you need.