“The Heroin Project” Part I: A Call To Action

    Public defender Dennis Hatch, who previously served as both Judge and Prosecutor in Washington County, speaks to the audience at a screening of “The Heroin Project” on April 20 at the Nashville Community Center.

By Alex Haglund

    “The Heroin Project” is a film documenting the deadly effects of the abuse of heroin and other narcotics. It is an important to help gain some understanding of the epidemic that is gripping communities both small and large and leaving a trail of dead and imprisoned addicts in its wake.

The film is important, and I would personally recommend that anyone above say, 13 years old or so, should see it. Seeing the stories of narcotics addicts and the families that love them and others that are trying to help them through this affliction is eye-opening, though it is still a difficult thing to see and hear.

Perhaps more important than the film itself though is the call to action that goes hand-in-hand with the screenings of the movie. People from different parts of the community and of different careers, some of whom would even be opposed to each other in other settings have come together and are saying that this problem is big – it is, and they’re asking, earnestly for help, because they need it and we all need to join in if we’re going to have the slightest chance of helping to stem the flow of tragedies related to these drugs.

There have been two screenings of “The Heroin Project” in Washington County, the first was at Okawville High School on April 11 and the second was at the Nashville Community Center on April 20. Presenting the movie was Heather Todd, a middle school teacher in Breese and a resident of Okawville.

Also present, talking about their experiences with the drug and people who have used it were Alison Brendel of the Human Service Center in Okawville, Sheriff Danny Bradac, State’s Attorney Dan Bronke, Coroner Mark Styninger, Judge Dan Emge, Public Defender Dennis Hatch, and Dave Admire, father of Brad Admire, a recovering addict. Both Brad and Dave were in “The Heroin Project”.

Close To Home

The film was put out in 2015 and was made by Ashley Seering and Cory Byers. The addicts and those that are trying to help them that it documents are in Madison County, Illinois. It hits close home in both a figurative and literal sense showing how these drugs can effect not just inner city or far-off communities, but communities that are our neighbors…and Washington County too.

At the event Styninger said that a few years ago he was able to say that there were no deaths due to narcotics overdoses in Washington County. Every year since then, 2015, 2016, 2017 – there have been fatalities though. Washington County even has comparatively fewer deaths than some neighboring areas – Centralia and Marion County are particularly troubled. Of course, “it could be worse” would be little comfort to someone whose son, daughter, sister, brother or other family member is the one claimed by an overdose.

It Starts With Pills

The issue with heroin isn’t, at least in the beginning, an issue with heroin itself, but with something much more mundane and more insidious – prescription painkillers, an issue returned to again and again by those on stage, no matter which side of the courtroom they sit on.

Heroin usage has increased more than 75-percent between 2007 and 2011.

“There is a strong, strong correlation between prescription drug usage and heroin addiction,” said Emge.

Admire said that there was no history of addiction in his family before Brad’s troubles. After Brad had surgery he was given prescription painkillers and that was where it started.

Eighty-five-percent of heroin users admitted to abusing prescription drugs.

And while prescription drugs leading to heroin addiction can get anyone of any age, when it comes to teens and young people doing drugs, they’re usually not going to find heroin from their parents unless their parents are addicts themselves – but they might get prescription drugs.

     The screening of “The Heroin Project” at the Nashville Community Center was a short film followed by a long discussion.

Pharm Party

Todd told those present about a pharm party she had heard about students having. Initially, she thought they had said “farm party”, like a party in the country, maybe some drinking, a bonfire, who knows…but what it actually had been was a party where all of the teens had raided their parents medicine cabinets, dumped what they found into a fishbowl and then passed it around, each swallowing a pill when the bowl came in front of them. The party ended when someone passed out.

“Prescription drugs,” said Hatch, “that’s where it starts. You can blame Washington Park, you can blame Centralia, but it’s so easy to get, it’s here!”

“As a community, what we can do is to try to prevent prescription drug use,” said Emge. If there are pills or drugs in your house, “get rid of it.”

Medical Professionals

In the audience were numerous medical professionals, including nurses, health department and hospital staff. After a number of mentions of prescription drugs being the genesis of the current heroin epidemic, Dr. Ginger Fewell of Washington County Hospital spoke up, trying to cast some light on things from the perspective of a doctor.

“As a prescriber, we do see it,” said Fewell. While she and other doctors would not seek to enable addiction, it goes back to the training that doctors are given.

“It’s something that we are taught,” Fewell said, “that people should not be in pain.”

Hatch pointed the finger not at doctors (or most doctors anyway), who are trying to earnestly help patients, but at the medical industry and pharmaceutical companies – companies who make big money on different and varying narcotic painkillers, some of which are very expensive.

Any narcotic can activate addiction centers in the brain, and once a person is hooked – and the prescription has run out or the pills are to expensive to buy anymore, cheap heroin, sometimes costing as little as $5 for a dose – is there to fill its place.

“If you want to do something,” Hatch told the audience, “call your congressman or your state guy and say, ‘what are we going to do about prescription drugs?’”

Narcan – Lifesaver or Moneymaker?

A small bit of good news related to the heroin epidemic is that Narcan, an anti-overdose drug which shuts off narcotics receptors in the brain, is now being carried by paramedics and other first responders and is saving lives.

“For every fatal drug overdose,” Styninger said, “we have at least three that are saved by the paramedics who inject them with Narcan.”

“I suggest that any family that has problems with it (heroin) in their home have Narcan,” said Admire, “and use it.”

While Narcan does undoubtedly save the lives of addicts, those on stage stated that they were worried that it was being lined up by the companies that sell it for a major price increase, like what has happened with the “Epi-Pen”. It’s a lifesaving drug, it’s in high demand, and the companies know that no price is too high to save a loved one, so they’ll ratchet it up.

While someone with the money available almost certainly would pay to save someone close to them, a huge increase in price could mean that cash-strapped municipalities, hospitals or emergency service providers no longer can have or have as much on hand when it is needed.

To Be Continued – The Brain Of An Addict And Solutions To The Problem

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