Monday, January 09, 2017

New York Times story looks at opioid epidemic in 7 communities, finds use not slowing down

An undercover Homeland Security agent in
Nogales, Ariz. (Times photo by Caitlin O'Hara)
The opioid epidemic, which is disproportionately rural, shows no sign of letting up any time soon, says a New York Times investigation that looks at the impact of painkillers on communities in Arizona, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

"Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015," reports the Times. "Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides."

"This epidemic is different from those of the past in significant ways. One is that it has spawned a growing demand for medications that can help modify addiction’s impact," Abby Goodnough writes in a story that looks at rural Marshalltown, Iowa. "For people in this rural community of 28,000, getting medication to help overcome opioid addiction used to require long drives to treatment centers."

In Nogales, Ariz., on the Mexican border, Customs and Border Protection agents last year "seized more than 930 pounds of heroin in Arizona, which is almost one-third of all heroin seized along the entire southern border," Fernanda Santos writes. "Agents acknowledge that they catch only a small fraction of what goes through. Much of the heroin that enters this country comes hidden in cars, concealed in suitcases, squeezed inside hollowed fire extinguishers, or strapped to the thighs, crotches and chests of Mexicans and Americans who cross between the two countries."

In Huntington, Utah, "There are few options for drug treatment in the high desert of central Utah, a remote expanse of struggling coal mines, white-steepled Mormon towns and some of the country’s highest opiate death rates," Jack Healy writes. "The lone doctor licensed to prescribe one addiction-treating drug has a waiting list. The main detox center is the county jail. The rate of prescription overdose deaths among the 32,000 people sprinkled across two neighboring counties in this corner of Utah is nearly four times the state average. Addiction has rippled through ranks of miners who relied on pain pills after years of digging coal and working in the power plants."

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