Op-Ed: Heroin, the ultimate frenemy

Monday, February 19, 2018 - 5:38pm

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Traverse City, my hometown, is in desperate need of an intervention.

In a five-day span, three people in Grand Traverse County have died due to heroin and fentanyl-related incidents. My peers from middle school and high school are currently heartbroken over the death of one of our classmates, a beautiful 19-year-old woman, who passed away from a heroin overdose on Feb. 11, leaving behind her young son.

My community is devastated over these losses, but we fear that there will only be more.  

“Predator and Prey: Opioids’ Savage Effect On Our Community” is a documentary created by my middle school that tells the story of Traverse City’s opioid addiction, including the stories of three community members who have succumbed to their addictions and one recovering addict. The documentary highlights the true breadth of the opioid epidemic. In 2017, 23 people died from overdoses in my community. This is a substantial increase from the nine people who died from overdoses in 2014. Additionally, North Flight, an emergency medical service that transports patients to a hospital by helicopter, airplane or ambulance, responded to 288 overdose calls. Grand Traverse County is being held hostage by drugs.    

This isn’t just a problem in Grand Traverse County. In Michigan, drug overdose deaths quadrupled from 1999 to 2015. Here in Washtenaw County, 65 people died from drug overdoses in 2014 — the 14th highest number of deaths per 100,000 people among Michigan counties. The massive volume of drug overdoses in recent years has caused life expectancy in the United States to decrease for the second year in a row.

While controlled substances are destroying people’s lives nationwide, almost everyone in my community has been affected by the drug epidemic. We all know someone who is a current addict or has passed away due to an overdose. We might struggle with addiction ourselves. We may even know someone who deals these dangerous drugs. Yet, despite its prevalence, no one seems to know how to handle the situation.

It’s time for us to stop talking about the opioid epidemic and start doing something about it. Currently, it seems as if law enforcement officers are arresting dealers after their victims have passed rather than preventing deaths before they occur. To save lives, we need to decrease the stigma of drug use. This will allow addicts to feel comfortable asking for help without repercussions. One step we could take is legalizing and implementing safe injection sites, which allow drug users to use controlled substances under medical supervision. There is evidence that these safe houses have helped drug users. A safe house in Vancouver, Canada, claims to have intervened in 6,400 overdoses in 13 years and placed 4,500 people in rehab facilities. Perhaps, if these three members of my community were able to receive immediate medical treatment in a safe injection site when they overdosed, they might be alive today.

Additionally, I want to see a push to offer addicts treatment instead of giving them jail time for drug possession. Addicts will not feel comfortable reaching out for the help they need if they feel like they will be punished for doing so. 2016 saw a 5.63 percent increase in arrests for drug law violations from 2015. While I understand the drive to keep drugs out of the community, I am afraid that fear of arrest is preventing addicts from stepping forward and asking for the help they need.

My community is tired of burying our friends and family. We are tired of seeing those we once called friends being jailed for their connection to the deaths of our loved ones. Grand Traverse County, and Michigan in general, can do more to provide support for those struggling with substance abuse. The implementation of safe houses and creating a culture of assurance for addicts that will allow them to seek the help they need. For those currently struggling with addiction: We love you and we want you to seek the help you deserve. Reach out to a loved one. Those around you care about you and want to see you recover.

Emily Huhman is an LSA sophomore and a Senior Opinion Editor.