At the beginning of February, headlines were packed with information about the growing heroin epidemic. From the death of legendary actor Philip Seymour Hoffman to the 22 heroin-related deaths in one week out of Pittsburgh, it was all the nation seemed to be talking about. However, in typical fashion, Americans are on to the next big breaking story, and leaving the importance of the conversation about laced batches of heroin in the dust.
What many people do not know is that during the time that heroin abuse was serving as breaking news, even more people throughout the nation were dying of “Theraflu” – a new batch of heroin that is laced with fentanyl. According to Dr. Publicker of The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), there were over 20 “Theraflu” related deaths in Rhode Island in January, and in Maine, the numbers of overdoses from this drug have quadrupled since 2012.
Dr. Publicker also states that many locales nationwide are doing little to nothing to help curb this dramatic rise in laced heroin abuse. For example, in many states, addiction tends to be criminalized. Therefore, those people who are struggling with “Theraflu” or other substance abuse are less likely to reach out for help, for they are in fear of the legal system. In addition, coverage for addiction therapy programs are continually finding themselves on tight budgets, causing facilities to need to make cuts that make treatment less available to those in need. Another primary concern is that many of those who are receiving medication assistance such as buprenorphine or methadone maintenance as a form of treatment have experienced a lapse in their Medicaid coverage, making it impossible to continue their course of care.
This “new” issue of laced heroin abuse is not new at all. In fact, heroin abuse (and combining heroin with other drugs) has been going on for years, and is thought to be derived from the prescription drug epidemic. What is important about addressing this heroin abuse epidemic is that our legal systems learn from the mistakes made during the height of the prescription drug epidemic. By doing so, changes can be made quickly and more effectively.
In the meantime, those who are struggling with heroin and “Theraflu” addictions should take as many precautions as possible. This can include having doses of naloxone handy, as well as looking into getting treatment at a clinic or professional facility.