Why Are More Young People Experimenting with Heroin
Youth is a time of exploration. Many younger individuals travel abroad and connect with others in their fields of interest, but the pandemic put a halt to the traditional ways in which we gather and migrate.
In turbulent times, distress spreads on a micro and macro level. We often talk about unemployment or other such fiscal manifestations of tragedy, but the pain of the past year is starting to flare up in our most vulnerable populations.
Kids are young adults who are experimenting with dangerous substances at an alarming rate. If we expect to curb the terrifying trend, we must analyze it and try to understand why certain generations are drawn to heroin, even if it is at their own peril.
Opioid Use: By the Numbers
Before we discuss heroin specifically, let’s assess its classification. Heroin is an opioid associated with painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. Medical practitioners may prescribe meds to patients who undergo surgery or cancer treatment, making it possible for those drugs to fall into the hands of impressionable, curious household members.
Experimentation can start innocently enough. Perhaps a group of teenagers sneak into their parent’s bathroom cabinets and share what they find with their friends. It happens with a shocking frequency, but just because opioid use is common doesn’t discount how deadly it can be.
The United States bore witness to the loss of over 70,000 of its citizens in the year 2019. That equates to roughly half the population of Pasadena, California, gone in the span of just one year.
To break down the numbers even further, consider the portion of overdose fatalities associated with opioids. Over 49,000 of the 70,000 deaths mentioned above involved the use of at least one opioid. More specifically, the data shows that more than 14,000 of these incidents were heroin-related.
Perhaps the most unexpected number among this overwhelmingly saddening info pertains to the ages of those who are overdosing. Of the opioid victims mentions above, almost 3,400 were between the ages of 15 and 24. Our best and brightest are succumbing to the worst extremes of substance use.
Given the lethality of heroin, one would think that people would steer clear of it at all costs, but the topic is not that simple. Individuals caught in the grip of addiction find themselves on a slippery slope covered with good intentions and bad luck. Young people, in particular, have not developed a tolerance or exposure to various substances when they begin to experiment. Heartbreakingly, a kid’s first fix could be their last.
From Pills to Heroin: The Downward Spiral
Let’s revisit the hypothetical situation posited above. Teenagers looking for an escape from their reality may try the pain meds they find among their parents’ pills. It might temporarily free them from the sense of claustrophobia they suffered during the lockdown, and the taste quickly turns into a craving.
This scenario is playing out in cities and towns across America. Yes, that’s right – small towns are just as susceptible to opioid abuse as urban centers, despite the pervasive stereotypes. One medication has become the most infamous ingredient in burgeoning addictions, and that compound is OxyContin.
Nicknamed “hillbilly heroin,” OxyContin targets the receptors in the brain that regulate pain. When used properly, the medication can help severely injured or sick individuals through their darkest times. However, overuse of OxyContin can result in the suppression of one’s breathing and heart rate, possibly ushering in total stasis and death.
The propagation of OxyContin has ravaged hundreds of communities across the country. One small town in West Virginia, for example, once held the unenviable distinction of being an epicenter for pain medication addiction. An estimated 40% of the youth population in this area was hooked on OxyContin.
Given that OxyContin is a controlled substance, the natural question becomes: how do those struggling with addiction get their next dose? The answer is a picture of desperation and necessity. When a user cannot get their hands on the drug of their choice, they often gravitate toward the most convenient alternative. “Hillbilly heroin” yields to street heroin. What began as a simple experimentation with pain pills has become a race to inject one of the most lethal substances on earth.
Early Detection, Enduring Results
So, how can young people avoid the pitfalls of opioid addiction and overdose? Education is a great first step. Talk to children about the dangers of illicit drug use in language that is appropriate to their age group.
For example, you do not want to scare impressionable pre-schoolers with the graphic realities of heroin usage. Awareness is a better approach, positioning addiction as exactly what it is: a disease. Frame the topic of opioids as a sickness that requires attention rather than judgment. You’ll be surprised how attentive kids can be, even those of a tender age.
On the other hand, teenagers have often developed a sense of cynicism and a feeling that they know (everything) about the world at large. Tap into those expressions of empowerment and challenge them to do some critical thinking. Are they prepared to handle the repercussions of experimentation? Popping a pill may sound like a rebellious weekend folly, but adolescents need to learn how it can result in a chain reaction of cravings and helplessness.
The sooner you appeal to a young person, the better. All of us are on the spectrum of using and recovering. If you can connect with a teenager who is just beginning to explore heroin or other opioids, you may be able to provide them a window into their future.
Will it be a happy, healthy existence? Or a life filled with regret?
Only the individual can truly answer these questions for themselves, but we can offer the best structure to guide their path forward. Contact us, and let’s discuss how we can facilitate a plan for sober living.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.