There are very few things in this world that do not discriminate against age, race, ethnicity, or gender. Unfortunately, one of these is addiction. Nearly 45 years ago, US President Richard Nixon announced that: ‘America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.’ His declaration was prompted by the escalating heroin epidemic in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Dubbed the ‘wonder drug’ in the 1890s, heroin was first commercially released by Bayer Pharmaceutical Company, and it was used as a universal treatment for coughs, colds, asthma, and even morphine abuse and withdrawals. During that time, medical professionals could not possibly predict the horrific, escalating fury that heroin would have on our entire nation.
Heroin’s historical journey to America originated from a seed. Oddly enough, the botanical name, Papaver somniferum, is widely conflicting with the reality of the epidemic this plant gave birth to, as it was originally named the flower of joy.
The rise and evolution of this drug was not an overnight process, and peeling back the layers of its presence within American society sheds light on its deadly progression. While American and other Western films portray the life of a traditional cowboy in saloons, the opium dens, dope peddlers, and illegal trafficking across US borders were a true part of reality among American life, dating back to two centuries ago.
Eventually, doctors, medical professionals, and drug users in the early 1900s began to open their eyes to the true effects of this drug. During this time, heroin addicts discovered the insensitivity effect of using needles. The increased use led to the passing of the US 1924 Heroin Act, which made manufacturing and possession illegal.
For every action, there is a reaction, as these laws essentially led to the increase of smuggling heroin across US borders. This deadly drug still survived efforts to eliminate it, and one of the major waves of its use, abuse, and deaths were attributed to the Vietnam War. According to Narconon, American soldiers returned home addicted and trafficked heroin to make extra money. During this time, Nixon’s war on drugs was unveiled after hearing stunning statistics of the drug’s impact. For instance, between 1950 and 1967, the average death age of a person shooting up heroin in New York City was 27. Though it was initially linked to the inner cities, it didn’t take long for heroin to walk into the lives of the American suburbs.
As of today, US is fighting the most lethal heroin-based battle it has ever encountered. Today, 90% of heroin users are white, upper- and middle-class males, and within the past decade its use has doubled among 18–25-year-old adults.
Research continues to reveal the definite connection between pharmaceutical opiates, such as Oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, and Fentanyl, to the ever-growing heroin abuse today.
Oxycodone, for instance, was released as a pharmaceutical drug, and eight years later in 2005, 14 million people had already became victim to its addictive, heroin-like effects. When an opiate addict’s prescription runs out, and they cannot afford to pay the outrageous street price for these drugs, heroin is readily available, providing a cheaper, more potent high. The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 467,000 Americans were addicted to heroin in 2014, and that number is estimated to continue to grow.
Heroin’s lethal drive through the American nation has left an enormous hollow. The latest research marked an astounding 286% increase, when comparing to 2013 heroin-related deaths to those in 2002.
In its path, millions of families are left heartbroken, as they have lost their children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends of all ages, races, and ethnicities – but there is hope. This horrifying epidemic began with a seed, and even though research suggests its life is gaining momentum, each individual has the power and resources within our society today to get help. Recovery offers its own seed, and it contains the power to uproot the toxins that allow the disease of addiction to grow.
Karen Corcoran-Walsh is an expert in the treatment of mental health and drug or alcohol abuse and addiction, also known as dual diagnosis.