New ways needed to steer people away from opioids

Columnist Allie Friese and most other Pacific County school students of her generation participated in the D.A.R.E. program — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — led locally by former Sheriff John Didion.

I was part of the D.A.R.E generation. Drug Abuse Resistance Education. In 5th grade, the sheriff came into our classroom on a weekly basis and taught us about the dangers of drug use. We were required to pledge to abstain. At the time, I didn’t really know what drugs even were (alcohol didn’t count), but other kids in my class had parents who smoked weed (or more), so they were skeptical from day one.

I am now part of the “Opioid Crisis” generation. The same kids who went through D.A.R.E had a realization at some point that the curricula fed to us was somewhat hyperbolic. They lied to us. Marijuana wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was lumped in with cocaine and meth. If they lied about weed, they must have lied about all of it, right?

A lot of these kids started taking, snorting, smoking pills in high school. Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Suboxone. Some of the smartest kids I knew in high school were doing it. It probably wasn’t that big of a deal, everyone thought, because it came from a pharmacy. It’s not like it was heroin or something.

Plus, we knew a lot of people who did pills and didn’t get addicted, so no one else probably would either? We didn’t know it at the time, but 30 percent of people who try opiates will get addicted. So, of course we’re going to know some people who get high and quit no problem. Most people, in fact.

When we millennials were released into the world in the middle of the recession and no one could afford pills anymore. Turns out that heroin is a lot more affordable.

Many times I have heard, “I will never mainline H. I only smoke it.” Every single time, that person is shooting up within months, if not weeks. People realize it’s a problem when they’ve got a needle in their arm. “I’m not even getting high anymore. I’m just maintaining.”

So now we’re in the midst of the Opioid Crisis. By 2015, two-thirds of all overdoses in the U.S. were due to opiates. The Centers for Disease Control found that if you become addicted to prescription painkillers, you’re 40 times more likely to get addicted to heroin. I went to the doctor the other day for a sore throat and he prescribed me 10 days’ worth of Hydrocodone. That seems excessive.

Maybe the older generation sees these people as junkies. Let them overdose. Just like the crack epidemic in the 1980s — let natural selection run its course. Well, I promise you that you know someone who relies on opiates a little too much; they aren’t holed up in an opium den, they’re high-functioning addicts. Maybe you work with them, maybe it’s your aunt, your brother, your cousin. Or maybe it’s your teenager whose mindset is just like ours was in 2007.

The crisis is real. It’s here. It’s all around us. But how do we fix it?

I have no idea. Doctors can scale back the frequency in which they prescribe these medications, which would affect the upcoming generation, but how to we help the two million people already addicted to opiates, and the 500,000 who are addicted to heroin? That won’t be fixed by fewer painkiller prescriptions.

And while the issue of addiction needs to be addressed, we also have to think in terms of prevention. We need to educate ourselves and speak candidly with high schoolers. The Nancy Reagan War on Drugs, “Just Say No,” campaign is no longer relevant. It didn’t work. I promise you, your teenager knows someone who is taking pills, and they know someone who will be a heroin addict in 10 years.

Maybe you won’t agree with this, but I recently told a 17-year-old that most people don’t get addicted to the drugs they try. That’s the absolute truth. I also told her that not everyone makes it out. Maybe it will be your boyfriend, or your best friend, or you. There are always casualties, and I mean that in the most literal sense possible.

Maybe it will be your boyfriend, or your best friend, or you. There are always casualties, and I mean that in the most literal sense possible.

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