Opioids & Heroin – Ohio’s epidemic
Over the past two decades, Ohio has experienced significant growth in drug overdose deaths. These deaths were primarily fueled by increasing rates of prescription drug abuse, which consequently also led to an uptick in the use of heroin in Ohio. Like other rust belt states, the Buckeye state has struggled to stem the spread of the illegal opioid within its communities. Facing the steep societal costs of heroin, Ohio has seen an important rise in related overdose deaths. Since 1999, Ohio heroin involved overdose deaths have climbed from the low hundreds to around 1000 deaths in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although this number has since dropped, overdose deaths appear to be rising again, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Understanding the spread of heroin in Ohio
Many wonder about the causes of the recent spread of heroin in Ohio and the region. Experts attribute the growth to epidemic levels of prescription opioid abuse, which later became more costly and difficult for users to obtain, causing some to turn to heroin instead. Opioid abuse exploded in the early 2000s as a result of overprescribing, aggressive marketing tactics by drug companies, changes to medical guidelines, and a lack of addiction training within the healthcare sector. As the opioid epidemic in Ohio grew, public officials and lawmakers responded. Increased enforcement, shutting down of pill mills, new prescribing regulations and other measures have made obtaining drugs like oxycontin more difficult.
Consequently, some users turned to the less expensive and now more widely available heroin. Ohio residents are increasingly entering publicly funded treatment for heroin addictions. State data from the treatment admissions system shows that heroin is increasingly becoming a reported drug of choice across almost all demographics over time. The shift toward heroin use has impacted certain age groups more than others. Among Ohio heroin users, the death rate is highest within younger demographics. While adults aged 45-54 have the greatest risk of overdosing on prescription opioids, males ages 25-34 face the greatest risk of experiencing a fatal heroin overdose.
In response to growing use of prescription opioids and heroin, Ohio and U.S. public officials are working with stakeholders to address the complex issue. Bringing together public sector, health, law enforcement and treatment officials to tackle the threat of opioids and heroin, Ohio institutions are working to increase prevention and education, reduce overdose deaths, increase data collection and improve related legislation and policy. For example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, developed a joint task force that produced the Heroin and Opioid Community Action Plan.
Although Ohio has had success in combating the diversion and abuse of prescription opioids like Oxycontin–with overdose deaths dropping in 2018 and 2019–death rates still remain significantly higher than at the turn of the century. Much of the state’s progress has been hampered by the increased use of a synthetic version of the opioid. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and has become the main driver of overdose deaths in Ohio. Heroin and illegal forms of fentanyl are now being sold in many areas of the state.
Learn more about treatment with a free consultation
If you are considering addiction treatment for yourself or someone in your life, now is the time to take action. Addiction is a deadly disease that has taken too many lives, broken up families and destroyed futures. Liberty Ranch offers free consultations. Call 888-387-1531 to talk to a specialist that can let you know about the treatment options available and help you select the right program.
The link between fentanyl & heroin in Ohio
Fenytnal, which is usually only prescribed for severe medical conditions like late stage cancer, is now widely available in many parts of Ohio. Heroin users are one group that faces additional risk when it comes to the potent and dangerous synthetic opioid. Many users find themselves unsuspectingly ingesting heroin laced with fentanyl. The synthetic drug is 50 times more potent than heroin, increasing the likelihood of overdose. Reports from the DEA indicate that as little as two milligrams (about the size of two grains of salt) can be fatal to most people.
Both drugs are being detected together increasingly in county toxicology reports. In 2014, Cuyahoga County registered 22 fatalities involving a mixture of heroin and fentanyl. By 2017, the number increased by nearly a factor of 11 to 217 fatalities. In 2020, the country has already seen numerous deaths involving both fentanyl and heroin. Ohio continues to struggle to combat both highly addictive drugs, which when combined, can be even more toxic for users. Tightened prescribing restrictions and other measures have created space for illegal and counterfeit forms of fentanyl to make its way into the state, as heroin use has simultaneously expanded. Some Buckeye cities have even become fentanyl hubs. Clearly, the use of both drugs remain large problems for the state of Ohio.
Given the state’s high rates of deaths involving heroin, Ohio families should be aware of the signs of overdose. Additionally, it is important to know whether or not a person is abusing heroin, in case they may need help or need to be monitored for a possible overdose.
How to recognize the signs of heroin abuse
If a person is high on opioids such as heroin, they may exhibit the following behaviors and symptoms:
- Nodding off
- Slurred speech
- Appearing “out of it” but still responding to outside stimuli like a loud noise or a tap on the shoulder
- Droopy, relaxed muscles
- Itchy skin and scratching
- Small, contracted pupils
The previously mentioned signs are all indications a person may currently be high on opioids, although not all must be present. If you are concerned that the person has taken too much of the drug, you should not leave them alone. Monitor their breath, keep them awake, and walk them around so that they do not fall asleep or nod off. Additionally, you should look for signs of overdose if you believe they may have used too much of the drug and know the steps to take in case on does occur.
How to recognize the signs of heroin overdose
The following symptoms are all indications of an opioid overdose:
- Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
- Greyish skin tone (for darker skinned individuals) or purplish/bluish skin tone (for those with lighter skin)
- Bluish or purple lips and fingernails
- Limpness of the body
- Clammy skin
- Inability to speak while awake
- Slowed, shallow breathing or stopping breathing altogether
- Slowed, erratic or stopped pulse/heartbeat
- Snoring, choking or gurgling noises. If you do hear strange snoring-like noises, try to awaken them as they may actually be overdosing. Many mistake these noises from regular snoring.
If any of these symptoms are present, you should try to wake them and immediately call 911. Try yelling their name and putting pressure or rubbing on their chest plate to wake them. Administer Narcan/naloxone according to instructions. It is important that you and others close to the addict have naloxone on hand at all times if you are concerned about their addiction to opioids including heroin. Ohio counties have made the lifesaving drug available to residents at little to no cost. Administering naloxone in a timely manner can be the difference between life and death. Next you should provide rescue breathing. Once the person begins breathing on their own, roll them onto their side into a recovery position and continue to monitor them until emergency responders arrive.
Where to get naloxone/Narcan in Ohio
In order to combat the threat of heroin, Ohio’s state government has partnered with a number of organizations and health care servicers to create Project DAWN. The program offers opioid education and naloxone distribution, including free kits. Click the following resources to find where free or low cost naloxone is available:
Other dangers of heroin abuse
Many are aware of the addictive nature and the risk of overdose of heroin. Ohio residents know all too well the impact widespread use has had on its communities and families. The drug creates high levels of dependency in users who quickly build a tolerance, requiring more and more doses to achieve the same feeling. However, beyond it’s extremely addictive properties, there are a number of other issues to be of which users should be aware:
- Brain damage: Continued use of heroin can cause long-term damage to the brain. In fact, the brain’s physical structure can actually be changed by repeated use of the drug. Additionally, the brain’s white matter deteriorates from use, compromising a person’s abilities to make decisions. Some of these changes may not be easily reversed.
- Bad batches of heroin: Because heroin is produced and sold illegally, there is no oversight over what exactly is in the drug a user may be ingesting. Since 2014, increasing numbers of unknowing users have overdosed from heroin mixed with fentanyl. This was the case when overdose deaths spiked in Butler, Hamilton, Lake, Lorain, Lucas, Montgomery and Stark counties during the summer of 2018, creating important public health concerns.
- Risk of contracting other diseases: Ohio heroin users should also be aware of the additional health risks they may face from using the drug. Because heroin is usually injected, users may contract other diseases from sharing needles, including HIV and Hepatitis C. 159 new cases of Hepatitis C and 986 new cases of HIV were reported in Ohio in 2017, an important portion of which was linked to injection drug use. Widespread opioid use has even caused HIV outbreak clusters in Ohio and surrounding states. To combat dangerous and unsanitary needle sharing practices, some Ohio counties offer needle exchange programs. In fact, Cleveland boasts one of the oldest needle programs in the nation.
- Greater risk of heart infection from heroin: Ohio has seen a rise in heart infections as a result of its heroin and prescription opioid problem, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session. Between 2012 and 2017, hospital admissions for infective endocarditis rose by 436%. The condition occurs when harmful bacteria build on the heart’s valves or in the inside heart lining as a result of intravenous drug use. The infection appears to be quite deadly, as 1 out of every 4 of Ohio State University’s Health System patients admitted for drug-related infective endocarditis died in hospital during that same year.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS): Pregnant women abusing heroin risk their baby being born dependent on heroin or other opioids. The drug can pass to the fetus through the placenta. Babies with NAS may experience excessive crying, irritability, fever, seizures, slow weight gain, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, and even death. Pregnant women struggling with heroin addiction do, however, have some options. A clinical study found buprenorphine treatment is safe for both the unborn child and the opioid-dependent mother. Bupenorphine and naloxone combined have also been found to be equally safe in reducing symptoms for babies born with NAS.
Getting help for heroin addiction
Given the extremely addictive nature of heroin, Ohio residents struggling with a substance use disorder should seek treatment as soon as possible. Addiction is a complex disease, not a moral failure. Many individuals with heroin or other substance use disorders have compromised prefrontal cortexes–the part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, delaying gratification, and self-monitoring. When a person’s brain is accustomed to heavy loads of dopamine from drug use, it becomes desensitized to normal sources of pleasure, which produce less of the happiness neuro-transmitter. Once a substance dependent person is deprived of drugs their brain is used to, they may become more reactive to stress and negative emotions can be more extreme.
Is your loved one addicted to heroin?
Are you concerned that your loved one may be addicted to heroin? Ohio families can look for a few key signs & symptoms of addiction:
- Extreme lethargy or exhaustion
- Nodding off (almost falling sleeping)
- Withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, fever, nausea, vomiting,diarrhea, watery eyes and a runny nose
- Broken friendships, relationships and withdrawal from normal social circles
- Marks, bruising or scabbing of the skin near where they inject the drug
- Poor judgement, issues with decision-making, confusion, struggling with simple tasks, impaired mental abilities, issues responding to questions
- Weight loss
- Unkempt appearance or less focus on hygiene
- Legal issues
- Problems with money, missing or stolen items, missing cash
Not all symptoms have to be present to indicate a substance use disorder. If your loved one has some or all of the following symptoms, now is the time to seek help. Contact Liberty Ranch for a free consultation. Specialists will help you to figure out next steps and select the best treatment program for your loved one’s situation. For more tips on dealing with addiction, avoiding codependent behaviors and talking to the addict in your life about treatment, check out our guides on addiction in adult children, teenagers, parents and significant others.
For these reasons, many people struggle to stop using drugs. Moreover, triggers that remind a person of their heroin use can make recovery all the more difficult. Triggers are learned environmental cues that a person associates with their substance use. For example, a user of heroin in Ohio may associate a neighborhood park or the smell of a friend’s perfume with their drug use. When they see the park or smell a similar perfume, their cravings may be triggered and can become more intense than usual.
Treatment outside of Ohio: Heroin addiction recovery
Ohio residents may find it difficult to begin the recovery process in their hometown or closeby. Being surrounded by so many triggers can make it extremely hard to stay clean, especially during the early stages of recovery. Moreover, in terms of access to heroin, Ohio residents may find themselves tempted to call their dealer to get “just one more fix” when they feel a craving. Seeking treatment out of state can be extremely beneficial to those ready to begin their recovery journey and increase the odds of success.
Because recovery is an emotional process that requires a great deal of healing and rebuilding, it can be especially helpful to be away from one’s normal environment so that the addict can focus without being interrupted by other daily stresses such as family issues. This offers them the opportunity to truly work on healing from their addiction, creating a foundation of healthy behaviors before being faced with the obstacles of daily life. By having time free from triggers while not using heroin, Ohio residents can address their underlying issues and focus on their recovery.
Located in Kings Mountain, Kentucky, Liberty Ranch offers Ohioans struggling with heroin addiction a safe, supportive space to heal while getting away from their daily routine. The rolling foothills and lush forest provides a serene space to focus on recovery.
Heroin addiction rehabilitation programs
Treating addiction means managing the biological aspects of the disease while also focusing on the behavioral and emotional elements under the addict’s control. Having the support of trained addiction specialists can be the difference between success and relapse for many. In essence, addicts must understand and address the emotional issues, traumas, stressors and triggers that have helped their addiction flourish, while learning healthier behaviors, ways to communicate and process negative feelings. This is by no means easy. It requires dedication as well as the support of trained professionals who understand the science of addiction.
Liberty Ranch’s Intensive Outpatient Program takes an evidence-based approach to addiction using psychological principles tested and validated through research and application. The program offers individual counseling with an emphasis on cognitive-behavioral, rational-emotive, and solution-focused therapy.
Additionally, due to the high rate of comorbid conditions among addicts, psychotherapy is available as a part of the recovery program. Clients can address their anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorders, trauma, PTSD, grief and personality disorders as a part of their treatment. Liberty Ranch’s trained addiction specialists take a comprehensive approach to addiction providing individual, family, and even multi-family counseling, as addiction is a disease that affects not just the addict, but those close to them.