Friday, March 13, 2015

Heroin deaths skyrocket, but hope remains



     Taking heroin feels wonderful.
     "It's been described as returning to the womb, and I think there's some truth to that," said David Cohen, who was addicted for years. "There's an instant sense of safety, almost an orgasm feeling at the beginning: 10 seconds of bliss and an overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort and safety from your head to your toes, like you're in a cocoon."
     At first, that is. The bad part quickly follows.
     "You build a tolerance so quickly," said Cohen. "It's not uncommon to need to shoot up three or four times a day. Pretty easy to get a $100 a day habit."
     So users steal to support their habits — that's what Cohen, now 42, did in his early 20s.
     They also have an increasing tendency to die. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2010 and 2013 the death rate from heroin overdose nearly tripled, from 1 in 100,000 people to 2.7 in 100,000. And unlike the cliche image of heroin addicts being youth in the inner city, the group most likely to die from heroin overdose are early middle-aged white males, 25 to 44.
     Why the surge in deaths?
     "People are dying from heroin for two reasons," said Cohen, who managed to kick his habit with the help of his parents, first, and then rehab, AA, and Hazelden Betty Ford Chicago, which he entered as a volunteer and now is clinical director. "First, there's more of it, second more people are attracted to it" because it's cheaper and often more pure — except when it's cut with drywall or other drugs, or even Ajax or poisons.
     Officials have been trying to respond to the upswing. In 2013, the DuPage County created a program to distribute Narcan, the nasal anti-overdose medication, and already credit it with saving 32 lives. The Schaumburg police started carrying Narcan kits in January.
     The FDA hasn't yet approved the sprayable form of Narcan, and Sen. Mark Kirk is pushing for it to do so. Late last year, he formed the Suburban Anti-Heroin Task Force to combat the drug.
     "There is no typical heroin addict," said Cohen, a member of the task force. "I am a heroin addict."
     Cohen was born in Peoria, went to Niles West then Highland Park High School, where he was smoking pot every day at age 15 and, like many, he started taking harder drugs using the most convenient source: his parents' medicine cabinet.
     "Prescription medicines are the hidden gateway drug," he said. "There's a message there. If you have a medicine cabinet full of unused medications, stimulants, sedatives, be smart. Lock up your drugs. When you are finished with your medications, dispose of them properly."
      Cohen overdosed on his 21st birthday, was in a coma for three days, then spent three years living the junkie scramble, until a concerned friend pushed his parents to action, and they shipped him off to rehab. He credits AA for helping save his life.
     "AA worked for me, I loved it," he said. "I found hope for the first time. They took a hopeless dope fiend and turned me into a dopeless hope fiend."
     Which is his message now.
     "While heroin is killing people, there is hope," Cohen said. "No parent should have to go through this alone. There's help out there."
     To reach Narcotics Anonymous, call their helpline at (708) 848-4884.

20 comments:

  1. HOOOORAY!!!!!!

    A member of the media puts out a story that is full of hope, educational and quotes our politicians ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING TO COMBAT A MAJOR PLAGUE IN OUR SOCIETY! I am on Cloud 9 after reading this article. I had just about given up on Steinberg, usually there's a Communist slant in everything he writes but this post is a gem....A+ for Neil may the Lord Bless you.


    Andy

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    1. A liberal slant, isn't a communist one automatically. Liberal is not radical. No more than a republican slant on the right means fascism.

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    2. A communist slant? How quaint. Wouldn't think your Lord would be up to blessing commies.

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    3. In this day and age, tossing out "Communist" is one of those remarks that I consider self-indicting, like foaming against liberals. It requires no rebuttal, because to express it is to remove oneself from the realm of rational adults whose thoughts need to be considered. There's nothing vaguely communistic about my views, nor about most people's views, and thus anybody detecting that is irrational and, as such, not to argued with. What's the point of doing so?

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    4. or saying that repubs are nazis

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  2. Great column today. For someone like me this is fascinating. The best way I can describe my experience with alcohol and marijuana and certain popular prescription drugs ( which I took when they were prescribed) is "They don't do for me what they do for you." The first time I read that alcohol is a "social lubricant" that it makes one feel something good or at ease... I didn't understand.The only thing itdoes for me is make me tired. Marijuana I tried a few times. Nothing but unpleasant fogginess. And I'm never going to try Heroin obviously but I truly believe that the positive feeling described just wouldn't happen for me. I believe this physiology makes me incredibly lucky and able to say with authority that I will never become an alcoholic or addict Though no thanks to any sort of personal strength

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  3. Nice followup to the McDonald's column.

    John

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  4. An informative column and how frightening for the addicts. Luckily I'd be too scared to try anything like that.

    offtopic/I'm no atheist but it bugs me when people say to me , like a cashier at a store, have a blessed day. As if they have some authority to order this.

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    1. They're being nice. The proper response is, "Thank you."

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    2. I'm an atheist and I once wished my nice young Christian neighbors a blessed Christmas. Does that make me a hypocrite?

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  5. When someone says have a nice day to my brother-in-law he always responds "No thanks - I have other plans".

    BTW - where was that picture taken?

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    1. Out the window of my room at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, last month. (The street scene; the sculpture is at the LA County Museum of Art).

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    2. I would have never guessed, and I've been in downtown LA. Thanks!

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  6. looks almost like a certain part of Chicago

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  7. Mr. S, If one may ask, what colleague do you respect most at the Sun-Times for their journalistic work? Just curious.

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  8. Sounds like the person in the article didn't have very good parents if someone else had to urge him to get him help.

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  9. Neil, promise us that you'll never write "in this day and age"again.

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  10. legalize all drugs now

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.