The plague of heroin addiction has made news recently as people across the nation are overdosing at alarming rates. The city of Louisville, Kentucky is now taking center stage as at least 52 people have overdosed on heroin in a 36-hour period.
Louisville Metro Emergency Services reported a string of 911 calls that started last Thursday around midnight and continued until the early morning hours of Friday. The overdose related calls came from more than 20 zip code areas in the county. Fortunately, there were no deaths reported from the overdoses. However, 34 people were hospitalized and treated with naloxone, which counters the effect of a heroin overdose. Last month, Louisville Metro Emergency Services reported 695 overdose cases, an average of almost 22 per day.
Mitchell Burmeister, a spokesperson for the agency, attributed the dramatic rise in overdoses to the availability of heroin and the mixing of the synthetic opioid fentanyl into batches. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. The issue of opioid abuse stands as an American problem. “Many of the heroin users began their addiction by taking painkillers and opioids,” says Mona Bennett, co-founder of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition. “Opioids are effective painkillers. But what kind of pain are people in where they are needing to try to find something else to relieve that pain? What physical and mental issues are going undiagnosed and causing this self-medication? Let’s start there.”
Last year, the world lost music icon Prince as a result of an opioid addiction. His autopsy revealed he had fentanyl in his system. In addition, police found counterfeit pain pills that contained fentanyl in mislabeled bottles. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, and so have sales of these prescription drugs. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic. Today, at least half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.”