RomarioIen Getty Images/iStockphoto
studio photography of human hand, syringe, spoon and lighter on black background
The numbers are revealing and frightening.
More than 14 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills are legally sold through prescription in Madison County per year (2014 statistics). That breaks down to 54 pills per Madison County resident. By comparison, the statewide average is 1.22 pills per resident, and nationally, the number is 1.73 pills per resident.
Once the prescription for painkillers ends, more and more people are looking for another solution to manage their pain or ease their new addiction to these potent narcotics. Most often, they turn to heroin. It is cheap and easily available, often costing as little as $5 per dose. Unfortunately, the most critical side effect of heroin, unlike some other street drugs, is that it is instantly addictive.
It is no wonder that law enforcement, support organizations and regional governmental agencies are concerned. This is not only a national epidemic, it is a regional issue. It is also one that the Glen Carbon Residents Advisory Board felt was a good topic for a community awareness meeting Jan. 19.
According to Lt. Wayne White of the Glen Carbon Police Department, there were three heroin overdose deaths in Glen Carbon in 2016. That number does not include Glen Carbon residents who died of overdoses outside the village limits. Across Madison County, that number grows significantly.
“This is an ‘everybody’ problem,” White said. “Even if you do not know — or think you do not know — someone facing heroin addiction, the impact to our community makes it everyone’s problem.”
Shane Patton spoke of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.
“Our goal is to work with law enforcement officers to communicate with our Angels Initiative (volunteers who serve the initiative) when they come across someone addicted to heroin,” he said. “We are not a get-out-of-jail free card — we are there to assure that we communicate the needs of those addicted to services in the region once they leave the criminal justice system and while they are serving their time.”
Patton also expressed the shortage of addiction treatment facilities in the Madison County region.
“The few facilities that are available are full,” he said. “They don’t offer waiting lists. It is up to groups such as ours and others you will hear from tonight to call every day to find space available for treatment.”
Patton went on to point out that 45 percent of adults in treatment are there for heroin addiction. With the statistic of more than 14 million prescribed opiate drugs in the county, there is potential for that number to grow dramatically once those prescriptions run out and patients seek other alternatives for what they feel is a need to replace those opiates.
Addiction to heroin and opiate painkillers is not an “adult” problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared heroin and drug addiction an epidemic, with children as young as 12 becoming regular users. Death by fatal overdose in the 16- to 25-year-old age group is the leading cause, exceeding all other forms of death combined.
In an effort to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Agency have released “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict.” The film is a documentary aimed at educating students and young adults about the dangers of addiction. It is available online and was released by the FBI in February 2016.
Jason Kelly spoke to the members of a SMART Recovery Program through Enjoy Church in Alton. SMART Recovery is a national program offering self-empowering addiction recovery support groups. Participants learn tools for addiction recovery based on the latest scientific research and participate in a worldwide community that includes free, self-empowering, science-based mutual help groups.
The final speaker was Jack Wilcox of Alton. He formed the nonprofit Just Keep Walking when he lost his son to a heroin overdose.
“I am an addict, 30 years in recovery,” he said. “I did not know how to cope with the death of my son. I faced what I call the hideous four horsemen — terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair.”
That despair led him to take off on a walk to Springfield, Ill., to talk to legislators and government leaders about the need for funding in support of addiction recovery.
Wilcox said he was unaware of his son’s addiction. He said parents need to open their eyes to the possibility that their child could face the same challenges.
“The three worst words you can say as a parent is ‘not my child,’” he said. “On any given day, 580 people will try heroin for the first time. It might be as the result of an addiction to painkillers that can’t be met. It might be the result of peer pressure. It might be because things like marijuana just do not produce the high anymore.
“Unfortunately, it often takes just one use to trigger an addiction.”
He warned parents to be on the lookout for warning signs.
“Look around,” he said. “Are you missing spoons in your house? Do your child’s shoes no longer have shoestrings? Are lighters either disappearing or, for some, appearing in your house? These could all be signs of intravenous drug use.”
All of the speakers seemed to agree on one message. Adults should take on the responsibility to reduce the reliance on even prescribed pain drugs. Ask the question — do I really need this opiate, or can I manage the pain in another way? Ask your doctor before being prescribed opiates — is this necessary? Does your child really need a painkiller to handle pain from sports injuries or accidents?
To learn more about community involvement in substance abuse prevention in the Glen Carbon-Edwardsville area, residents are encouraged to contact the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention. The organization focuses on creating environmental changes to prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco and others drugs in the Edwardsville School District. Information about the group can be found on its website.
Lt. Wayne White ended the meeting by encouraging local residents to be aware and report concerns to law enforcement.
“The Glen Carbon Police Department has a tip line,” he said. “Information is available on our Facebook page. We encourage you to report concerns so we can stop them from being another statistic.”