Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Heroin Doesn't Have to Kill Baltimore Is Reaching out to Give Addicts an Antidote

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Heroin Doesn't Have to Kill Baltimore Is Reaching out to Give Addicts an Antidote

Article excerpt


We find it hard to talk about, even though it kills more people in America than guns or cars and claims more lives than murder or suicide.

I'm talking about drug overdoses, taking close to 44,000 lives a year. These often follow a pipeline from prescription painkillers to heroin - a result, in part, of reckless marketing by pharmaceutical companies and overprescribing by doctors. These days, heroin is out of control, with deaths nearly tripling in three years.

To understand the lure of heroin and how to combat it, I came to Baltimore to talk to some experts: addicts.

"A guy was like, 'try this, it'll make you feel good,' " recalled Ricky Morris, who has struggled for years with heroin. "And it did make me feel good. It makes you feel superhuman. You can have sex all night long."

Yet, after a while, Mr. Morris was waking up sick each day and needed heroin simply to feel better. To finance his habit, he sold drugs and robbed people: "I started becoming the people I despised."

Even when he overdosed and nearly died, he continued. After watching his brother overdose and die, Mr. Morris was shaken and vowed he wouldn't take heroin on the day of the funeral out of respect. But the next morning he was so sick that he promptly began searching for a hit.

Now Mr. Morris is on methadone, a drug that replaces heroin, and with it he has avoided heroin for four years. But, he adds, "I'm still trying to take it one day at a time."

Baltimore is aggressively trying to reduce heroin deaths through an outreach program overseen by its health commissioner, Leana Wen.

"Heroin is actually the underlying problem behind so many issues in Baltimore," Dr. Wen told me. "It's why people can't find employment, why people go to jail, why people don't get educated. People lose their whole families because of heroin."

Heroin isn't a new challenge. But it seemed under control, and then, beginning in the mid-1990s, pharmaceutical companies began promoting opioids as pain relievers. This aggressive marketing resulted in huge profits for the companies but was sometimes reckless, deceptive and criminal. For instance, top executives of Purdue Pharma, which made OxyContin, pleaded guilty in 2007 to criminal charges for their role in deceptive marketing that downplayed the risk of abuse. …

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