Washington county is nestled on the southwest edge of Pennsylvania, bordering West Virginia. It has a population that just surpasses the 200,000 mark, and yet every day between five and eight of its inhabitants overdose on heroin.
Last weekend, the county experienced one of its worse overdose epidemics. In just 24 hours, 16 people overdosed. Over the whole weekend, 25 overdosed and three died, the Washington Post reports.
Every day in the US, an average of 110 people die from legal and illegal drug overdoses, according to the Post. Many of the Washington county people who overdosed were saved by the fact that all paramedics now carry a fast-acting antidote called naloxone.
Rick Gluth, a supervising detective on a Washington county drug task force, told the Washington Post that there had been a gradual increase in the number of overdoses over the last two years and that things “just went out of control.”
“I’ve been a police officer for 27 years and worked narcotics for the last 15, and this is the worst. I’d be glad to have the crack epidemic back,” Gluth said.
The number of heroin addicts in the US has sharply risen over the last decade, and with it the number of fatal heroin overdoses has gone up, too. Heroin use has doubled among young adults in the past 10 years, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. In some parts of the US, the problem has gotten so bad that maternity wards have now started installing special units to wean newborns off drugs due to the increasing number of mothers taking drugs while pregnant.
When injected, heroin turns into morphine, which causes the body to become extremely relaxed and decreases the sense of pain. One of the reasons people die from a heroine overdose is that their body forgets to breathe.
“Heroin makes someone calm and a little bit sleepy, but if you take too much then you can fall asleep, and when you are asleep your respiratory drive shuts down,” Dr. Karen Drexler, director of the addiction psychiatry residency training program, told CNN. Heroin overdoses also cause heart failures and extreme blood pressure drops.
The demographic of heroin users has been changing over the last decade. Since many heroin users become hooked after being prescribed painkillers known as opioids, a lot of middle-class people are now addicted. As a result, the drug is bought and sold in accessible places like bars, nightclubs, and homes.
Gluth told the Washington Post that in Washington county, heroin is much cheaper than prescription drugs. Prescription drugs can cost $US20 for a single dose, while heroin sells for $US8 for a stamp bag.
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