Opioid-based medication has been available to the American public since before the Civil War, but recently, these types of drugs have skyrocketed to the forefront of Americans’ attention. Law enforcement and government officials have gone so far as to declare the opioid abuse a national epidemic, and if arrest rates and overdose numbers are any indication, there are no signs that an end to the problem is in sight.
Morphine was originally used to treat soldiers’ battle wounds, and in 1898, heroin became commercially available. “They are effective pain relievers, and that’s what they were being used for. There weren’t many other options.” Says Kimberly Johnson, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. By the 1920s, health care professionals were becoming increasingly concerned about the addictive properties of opioids and started prescribing them less. Heroin was made illegal in the United States in 1924.
A Pill-Popping Culture
In the 1970s, Percocet and Vicodin became available with a prescription. About two decades later, later when a promotional video touting the “miraculous” pain-erasing powers of OxyContin surfaced, prescriptions for these new opioid wonder drug skyrocketed. Doctors like pain-management specialist Dr. Russell Portenoy published studies explaining that opioids had little ability to create addiction. “What I was trying to do was create a narrative so that the primary care audience would … feel more comfortable about opioids in a way they hadn’t before. In essence, this was education to destigmatize, and because the primary goal was to destigmatize, we often left evidence behind,” Dr. Portenoy said. “Clearly if I had an inkling of what I know now then, I wouldn’t have spoken in the way that I spoke. It was clearly the wrong thing to do.”
A Deadly Trend
In 2015, 56,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose. Evidence suggests that individuals who have either become physically addicted to opioid-based medication or have chronic pain will often turn to heroin when prescription painkillers are no longer available Opioid abuse is not limited by race, age, or gender. In fact, the fastest growing demographic for heroin abuse is the wealthy and women—two groups that few would consider to be high risk.
The reality is that many individuals who use heroin are not doing it for the high normally associated with so-called “street drugs.” Instead, they have a chronic pain condition and need more and more of the drug to feel normal. Studies have shown that those who become addicted to prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.
Treatment Vs. Punishment
In recent years, heroin arrests have surged in Illinois and across the country, but the focus in many jurisdictions appears be changing. More and more communities are recognizing that harsh punishments do little to deter criminal behavior that is driven by addiction. As a result, local and county court systems have come up with alternatives that are intended to address the root of the problem. Diversionary programs and drug courts can help those arrested on non-violent drug charges manage and overcome their addiction while avoiding lengthy prison sentences. The goal is to stop the cycle of addiction and to get people the help they desperately need.
If you or a loved one is facing drug charges stemming from an opioid addiction, contact an experienced Will County criminal defense lawyer . Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is a former prosecutor who understands the law and is ready to help you protect your future. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.