Wake Up Suburbia: Heroin Epidemic is Killing Our Kids

Heroin Epidemic - The National Incarceration Association

Brian T. Clark – Neighbor News Online

More often than not, being a journalist is a lot like standing in front of a steep ravine holding a sign that says “Bridge out” and watching as victim after victim falls into the ravine.
“You’re biased, inaccurate and can’t be trusted. You have your own agenda. I use this bridge every day and I can tell you it is still here and perfectly stable,” the first person says as they step over the ravine and plummet to their death.

Another person sees your sign and yells, “Look at that! Signs are dead. You need to step into the modern era and stop wasting trees. Your sign is such a waste,” she too falls over the edge of the ravine.

“You’re doing it all wrong,” another one says. “You need to be standing over there, and your sign needs to include words that are trending today. I have 128 followers on Twitter, so I am an expert at getting a message out.” He joins the others at the bottom of the ravine.

The next person is too busy staring at her phone to notice your sign. She screams as she falls, “Why didn’t anyone warn me about the bridge being out.”

So it is with metro Atlanta’s heroin epidemic. For the last year or so, we’ve published countless stories about opioid addiction in general and heroin specifically. We’re not alone either. This has been a topic that local and national media have given a great deal of attention.

However, a look at our web analytics and the print stories we get feedback on shows that most suburban readers are far more interested in the new restaurant or coffee shop opening up down the street and not nearly concerned enough about a problem that is happening in their own subdivision every day.

When a teenager or young adult has an overdose—or God forbid—dies at the hands of this addiction, everyone who finds out about it says, “I never would’ve known,” or “How can this happen here?” With all due respect, you’ve been told. You’ve been warned. The trumpet has sounded, the drum has been beaten. Your shock that this isn’t just an “inner-city problem” stems from your deep desire to stick your head in the suburban sand.

I beg you, fight that desire. It may be easy to ignore deep problems, but the cost is too high. The cost is the lives of our children. Most of the time, it starts out from a surgery or a medical procedure where pain pills are given. Once the pills run out, teens and young adults are addicted and need to find a way to get their fix. Sometimes they find that in their parents’ medicine cabinet. Other times, a friend may act as their supplier. After that well runs dry, they seek out the street version of the drug— heroin. But surely, this doesn’t happen here, right? The numbers don’t lie.

  •  The Fulton County medical examiner’s office reported just 4 heroin deaths in 2010. In 2014 that number was up to 77. Last year’s numbers are still being tabulated, but at last count the number was 82.
  • 18% of heroin deaths from 2010-2014 came from north Fulton County.
  • North Fulton has seen the largest growth in heroin-related casualties in the last 5 years.
  • 90% of heroin users are between the ages of 18-25, but in more affluent areas, they start younger.
  • Statewide, heroin-related deaths are up 300 percent since 2011. The GBI reports 276 deaths in 2011, compared with 863 in 2014.

It can happen here and it does happen here and unless parents step in, it will continue to happen here. Educate yourself about the problem and talk to your kids and other parents about the dangers of this epidemic. Officials in state and local government are aware of the problem and are doing what they can to fix it, but a remedy for a problem of this scope starts at home.

A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to hear Kate Boccia speak about her son’s struggle with heroin addiction. Like many suburban moms, addiction hit her family out of nowhere. She later found out about how heroin was distributed and how kids got hooked on it at an early age. She also talked about “Skittles parties.” A Skittles party usually happens at a sleepover and each of the kids brings pills from the medicine cabinet at home, they put the pills in a bowl and pass it around. Prior to that, I had never thought of addiction as something that could start at a simple sleepover.

Why am I talking about this instead of the usual odd news items I’ve become accustomed to filling this space with? My child is 19 months old. He is our miracle baby who came after a decade-long struggle with infertility. I don’t want him to grow up in a world of Skittles parties and opioid addiction. I don’t want to see him lose friends, neighbors or classmates to a problem that is both tragic and preventable.

When you get home from work today—or your kids get home from school— hug them and cherish them, and talk to them about real issues like addiction. Obviously, my son is a little young for any sort of conversation, but I’m going to do what I can. When I get home, I’m going to take an inventory of my medicine cabinet and safely dispose of medicines we no longer need. I would encourage everyone reading this to do the same.

If you would like more information about heroin addiction and how you can help someone in your life who may have a problem, visit Georgia Overdose Prevention’s website at www.georgiaoverdoseprevention.org.