Today 580 People Will Use Heroin for the First Time

10/26/2017 11:24 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2017
Alicia Cook speaking at the Celebration of HOPE walk in Seaside Hts, NJ. Over 2,000 people attended this awareness and recove
Alicia Cook speaking at the Celebration of HOPE walk in Seaside Hts, NJ. Over 2,000 people attended this awareness and recovery event.

POTUS needs to declare the opioid epidemic a national health emergency. The commission he appointed to fight addiction and the opioid epidemic has suggested that Trump declare the emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.

According to the Washington Post, under the public health law, the government could send Public Health Service personnel to help in hard-hit areas, like Ohio, which has been called “ground zero” of this crisis.

Under the Stafford Act, the government could designate some states and localities as “disaster zones” (again, like Ohio). This would allow these places funding from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, just as they would be following a tornado or hurricane.

POTUS is said to announce his decision today.

Many may scoff at the idea that this drug epidemic could receive the same treatment as those whose cities were destroyed by a natural disaster. But loving someone with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is like living in a destructive cyclone every moment of every day. You can’t hear anything; you cannot see two feet in front of you, you cannot sleep or eat. You cannot seek shelter because it has taken over your home. You focus on the one thing that is hurting you, the cyclone itself, because you know losing this cyclone will hurt even more, for the rest of your life.

Loving someone with substance use disorder is like living in a category four storm, but instead, in this storm, there is no eye, no calming center. It is chaos until it isn’t – and looking at the statistics, the chaos ends more frequently once someone overdoses and dies. This leads to a life-altering continuation of a different type of chaos, one I like to call grief.

We need to swing the pendulum the other way. We need the chaos to stop once people enter recovery from this disease.

I have been discussing this in many circles, and as an advocate for families affected by addiction, I was surprised to hear how many people were opposed to unlocking funds that could save the lives of tens of thousands of people each year.

In 2015, 52,000 people died from drugs, more than half of that number was at the hands of an opiate, be it pills, heroin, or any other opiate, like fentanyl. According to data released that year, never in recorded history had so many Americans died from drugs. For the first time since the 1990’s, life expectancy dropped.

In 2016, the death toll increased to upwards of 60,000. It is now the number one cause of death for people under 50. That means gun violence and car accidents are taking a back seat to opiates.

Now well into 2017, our nation is trending to surpass 60,000. We are enduring a death toll equal to September 11, 2001, every three weeks. Addiction affects 1 in 3 households.

It’s to the point where, if you aren’t affected by this disease, you should buy a lottery ticket right now because you might be the luckiest person alive.

We need funding. And we need it now.

In 2009, Congress passed nearly $2 billion in emergency funding to fight a swine flu epidemic. Over a year ago, Congress passed nearly $5.4 billion in emergency funding to combat the Ebola outbreak.

The Ebola outbreak killed one American; the opioid/heroin epidemic is killing more than 100 Americans each day.

And what about the people left behind? What about the loved ones who have watched for weeks, months, or even years, someone they love succumb to substance use disorder. I’ve seen firsthand how quickly an opiate can destroy the life of someone. In my cousin, Jessica’s, case it was 18 months. Was that even enough time to get a handle on her addiction and react appropriately? I’ve also seen firsthand how slow this drug can destroy the life of someone I love. How, months, maybe even years, tick by and you pray for God just to take them if this is how their life is going to be, because you have exhausted all efforts and resources. It is so heartbreaking.

Addiction is a chronic brain disorder, not a moral failing. Substance Use Disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated. We need resources to do so affectively. We’ve been putting Band-Aids on this crisis for far too long. My cousin Jessica has been gone for 11 years, and while the veil of shame has been lifted to a degree, the available resources to help these sick people has not vastly improved. Now, more than ever, there are people, advocates and those in recovery, who want to help people battling SUD, but wanting to help and being able to actually provide help are two different things, and a lot of it comes down to funding.

Having resources available the moment someone seeks them out can mean the difference between life and death. I cannot tell you how many grieving parents have told me how in the weeks leading up to their child’s overdose and subsequent death, how they couldn’t find available resources within 100 miles of their home. Some people believe if a bed in rehabilitation center was readily available, their child could still be alive.

Decades of over-prescribing opioids, heroin selling for $4-$8 a bag, and the emergence of fentanyl have lead us here.

No one deserves to die from this disease, and if things remain as they are, a lot more people to die. A forecast by STAT concluded that as many as 650,000 people will die over the next 10 years from opioid overdoses.

Today, as we wait for POTUS to announce the fate of the opioid crisis, 580 people will try heroin for the first time, and over 100 other people will overdose and die. One of those people could be someone you love more than anything.

Alicia Cook speaks at town hall in Toms River, NJ to over 100 people.
Alicia Cook speaks at town hall in Toms River, NJ to over 100 people.
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