Heroin use is a scourge that must be confronted

The OlympianNovember 29, 2013 

HEROIN

Evidence from the Robert Maddaus murder trial, about 5 ounces of Mexican black tar heroin held in the Olympia Police Department evidence locker on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.

TONY OVERMAN — Staff Photographer Buy Photo

Heroin use is on the rise in South Sound and in other communities across the state and nation. It’s cheap, highly addictive, lethal and not feared enough by young adults.

A recent two-part series by The Olympian’s Jeremy Pawloski paints a picture of a drug-use crisis out of control in our community, one that is claiming lives, fueling burglaries and thefts, tearing families apart and taxing the health care and drug treatment systems that addicts turn to by choice or court order.

The problem is so acute and costly that it must become a high priority to fight back on many fronts.

Parents must do a better job of monitoring the behavior of their teenage sons and daughters to keep them from falling into the wrong crowd. They must refute the myth that someone can experiment with heroin without the risk of getting hooked.

Young adults must resist the temptation to try heroin, and steer their friends and family members away from this insidious drug. If it makes an appearance at a party or in a social setting, it must be treated as an unwelcome intruder.

Law enforcement must continue to put more resources and time into breaking down heroin distribution networks and collaring those who are feeding this poison to America’s young adults. The fact that it’s possible to feed a heroin habit on as little as $10 a day suggests the drug is far too abundant and far too easy to obtain.

Federal, state and local governments must support drug treatment, low-cost housing and job training programs for those addicts who try to kick their habits.

It’s unacceptable that funding for drug abuse treatment programs in Thurston and Mason counties has declined nearly 20 percent in the past four years. Meanwhile, South Sound’s heroin problem continues to grow.

Thurston County Drug Court, a successful diversion program to help those whose crimes are associated with drug and alcohol abuse, has seen the number of cases involving heroin addiction grow by 400 percent in the past several years. The court and follow-up treatment can save lives, but cases involving heroin use are among the most difficult to manage.

The surge in heroin use raises questions about the effectiveness of the Thurston County needle exchange program, which in 2012 swapped out 950,000 used needles for 914,000 clean ones. Started 20 years ago to reduce the spread of infectious diseases among intravenous drug users, the IV drug use landscape has evolved since then. Public health officials stand by the program, but many in law enforcement say it enables illegal drug use. It’s time to have a honest community discussion on the pros and cons of the needle exchange program and figure out if it needs to be reformed.

Heroin has replaced prescription opiates as the drug of choice for too many young adults. It will take a concerted, multi-pronged effort to reduce the many threats heroin poses.

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