Heroin making inroads into Okanogan County?

Editorial Gary MugWhile the fatal heroin overdose of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman both cut short a brilliant career and has dominated much of the national news lately, we are faced with the potential for many of our own tragedies right here in rural America.

One just has to read the weekly court and police stats to see that heroin, which once brought to mind the decrepit back alleys of our big cities, is making inroads into Okanogan County. While it was an oddity to hear of an arrest for heroin just a few short years ago in the county it seems like we see it happening on a regular basis nowadays. People are even being charged with selling it in the parking lots of high schools now.

Of course rather than the problem having sprung from people using so-called traditional street drugs and moving up to a bigger high, the gateway drugs are now prescription painkillers. These aren’t the people who moved from “wake and bake” on to the next big thing and on up the line, these are the folks who were prescribed so-called “legitimate” painkillers like Oxycontin and became addicted and can no longer get their fix.

Doctors will tell you there are certainly legitimate medical reasons for prescribing opiates in an effort to control chronic pain, but it seems like their use has spun out of control. Many of us have friends or family members who have gotten addicted or had trouble weening themselves off these proscribed painkillers after they no longer needed them.

The reported street price for things like Oxy, or as it’s sometimes called “Hillbilly Heroin” was something like $40 a tablet. As the problem intensifies and the supplies dry up it can only push that price higher. Addicts were bound to look for something cheaper – especially if it is another opiate.

This is a pattern being repeated across America and it becomes more scary when we think of those young people who didn’t become addicted because they were proscribed these painkillers, but because they got them out of family, friends or neighbors medicine cabinets. Pharming as it’s called is an all too common practice among some of our young people. ABC News reports that rural kids say they do this because they’re bored. Well if it’s because of “boredom” or some other reason, they grab whatever they can find and often that’s these same highly addictive painkillers. And once they’re hooked if they don’t find the help they need they too, like those that were prescribed these painkillers, may turn to whatever they can get on the streets. This isn’t somebody’s “Reefer Madness” fantasy, it really is happening in our towns.

Now heroin, something most of us thought was the choice of only the hardest of hardcore junkies, has become the drug people are turning to. There are unscrupulous people only too willing to supply to this growing number of people who have gotten hooked. Heroin prices have gone down and the purity has gone up, according to ABC. This will make it even more attractive to people who have become addicted to things like Oxycontin.

Celebrity deaths like that of Hoffman’s get most of the press, but addiction, whether it is booze or drugs, can ruin the lives of everyday people. We’ve all seen it happen. We need to find some way to address this increasing heroin problem and get people the help they need, before it grows further out of control and those back alleys we thought of as only being a big city problem, are our own.