How We Can Turn Around the Heroin Crisis

Photo: Jacopo Aneghini Photos ©. Licensed CC-BY-NC.
Photo: Jacopo Aneghini Photos ©.
Licensed CC-BY-NC.

Ask anyone in the healthcare industry how the “war on drugs” is turning out and they’ll say that too many folks are losing the battle to addiction every day — and this is especially evident with heroin use. Between 2005 and 2012, heroin usage doubled. In 2012 alone, the number of fatal heroin overdoses spiked over at 50% from the last decade. The situation has only seemed more dire as time goes on.

Despite the lack of reporting across the mainstream media, it seems clear that America is in the throes of a heroin epidemic. Too alarmist? Perhaps that is exactly how this problem needs to be labeled in order to shed light on the situation.

Not all is lost. Many communities are taking a proactive approach to combat this growing problem. Here are some of the programs communities are using to fight back against the disastrous consequences of the heroin epidemic.

Supervised Injections

Is the best way to fight heroin addiction to actually allow users to shoot up? A proposal being put forth by the city of Ithaca, New York hopes to launch the first program of its kind in America. It would allow heroin users to inject themselves with a small amount of the drug under controlled conditions. Those conditions would also include clean syringes that can cut down on the transmission of other diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

This plan would be patterned after a similar program that has been met with great success in Vancouver, Canada. Since 2001, the Vancouver Insite facility has seen zero fatal overdoses from the millions of injections administered there. Under that controlled environment, participants at Insite also have direct access to therapy and counseling. This has created a reduction in overall heroin use in that community. For the program to be enacted in Ithaca, there would need to be a major overhaul of state and federal laws.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are two other cities hit hard by the heroin epidemic. City leaders took the harm reduction approach to the crisis, which involved setting up needle exchanges for users. The hope is that drug use will be made safer to a degree. Of course, any place that offers a needle exchange can also become a conduit for further treatment. It helps when users step out of the shadows and seek assistance. Even if it is only a clean needle, it is still a start.


Buprenorphine or “bupe” is a drug that has shown remarkable positive effects on curbing the cravings for heroin. One orange tablet held under a user’s tongue is all it takes to knock back the desire to shoot up. It sounds like a perfect cure, and to the users who are taking bupe, it is. However, since its approval was granted in 2002, the usage of the drug hasn’t exactly been widespread. There are only a handful of doctors certified to administer it. Couple that with the fact that many states don’t include buprenorphine on their Medicaid plans and you have a “wonder drug” that is in extremely limited circulation.

Sadly, some former heroin users become addicted to bupe, too. That is because they score the drug without proper medical supervision. Obviously, there needs to be more attention directed toward the proper distribution and follow-up with this drug in order for it to have a positive impact. Thankfully, the Obama administration is moving forward with expanding the use of this drug to fight heroin addiction.

Suboxone Clinics

Another drug proven effective with regard to heroin abuse is suboxone. In Tennessee, several suboxone clinics have popped up across the state. This got the attention of local legislatures who put forth a bill that would bring these clinics under regulation. That could do two important things. First, it will have the government acknowledging the problem. Second, it could allow communities across the state to expand outreach and treatment through the regulated clinics.

The hope is that with each minor success, other stricken communities will take up charge and find ways to effectively turn the tide against this deadly epidemic. Only time will tell if these are the actions it will take to start to curb the crisis, or if this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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