Heroin and opioid use in the Globe-Miami area has escalated to the point that no amount of arrests can slow its advance, and experts at a recent Town Hall meeting want the community to be aware and concerned.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Globe Police Chief Mark Nipp said after referring to his department as a blunt instrument that serves as a referral agency to deal with the problem.
The November 16th town hall meeting featured a panel of local experts who came together to discuss the epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse making its way into the local community.
Addiction to prescription pain medication and its cheaper alternative – heroin – is a chronic disease, not a moral failing, according to Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the United States surgeon general, who also said it is time to change how addiction is viewed and to treat those who suffer with skill, urgency and compassion.
Like the Globe Police Department, the local emergency room may be the first or last resort for those struggling with addiction, but neither the Police Department nor the emergency room personnel have the staff or resources to offer treatment beyond the immediate crisis. This falls on local agencies such as Horizon Health Services, Community Bridges and SEABHS, all of which maintain facilities in Globe-Miami. Each provides a range of detox (medical and/or social) options, case management, home visits, transportation and residential services.
According to keynote speaker and addiction specialist Dr. David Greenberg, the U.S. is in the middle of an epidemic that is of its own making.
Greenberg, who has worked for both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) investigating opioid abuse and the rise in heroin addiction, said the country lacks the regulations and rules that other countries like England, Germany and France have in place to ensure patient safety.
“Here in this country, we allow physicians to self-declare,” he said, and that allows physicians, in some cases, to set up practices for which they have no training.
He offered a recent example of a pediatric practice in Tucson that shut down and reopened as a pain clinic. One of its mottos was “Your pain is what you say it is.” It is now under investigation after increasing numbers of patients died.
“The physicians knew nothing about what they were doing,” Greenberg said.
Over prescribing pain medication and the subsequent addiction and misuse of prescribed medications has opened the door to heroin, which is both cheaper and more readily accessible on the street.
The cartels work hard to make getting heroin as easy as getting a pizza, according to Greenberg.
“We’ve jumped from pain pills to heroin,” he said, “and that is a bad direction to be heading.”
Captain Tony Grainger with Tri City Fire Department spoke about the changes he has seen in the 10 years he has been on call. Not only has there been an increase in prescription pill overdoses, but the heroin on the street is now being laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic that is 50 times more potent than heroin. The potency means emergency responders like Grainger must be extra careful in the field. “Simply by checking someone’s pocket who is suspected of having heroin puts the officer at risk,” Grainger said. “If he comes into contact with even a small bit of the product, that could lead to an overdose. “
To address the the problem of prescription pills and heroin