Heroin in the Hills

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 07:45 p.m. DST, 11 June 2014

High School Photography, Photo by Nadja RootCINCINNATI, Ohio -- While drug abuse is a long-standing problem in the Appalachia region of the United States, the surge in heroin usage has only been recently documented and is a relatively new phenomena. Most officials attribute the influx of heroin into be rural black-market to be a response to the crackdown on the easy accessibility to prescription pain pills such as OxyContin and Percocet, which rule the drug markets in Appalachia a few years ago.

In any case, heroin usage in the region is increasing at an alarming rate. To address this shift in society, police officers, caretakers and addicts have recently started carrying Naloxone. Could this overdose antidote be the answer?

Naloxone was first introduced in the 1960s, but was often written off as a taboo idea. In the War on Drugs, often addiction is not treated as a disease, and efforts to help people with life-threatening dependencies are not seen as legitimate. Lawmakers often claim that with increased access to clean needles and overdose antidotes, people will be more likely to use the drugs in the first place.

That logic is flawed, as heroin and other serious opiate addictions are fueled by growing issues in society and the personal lives of addicts. I believe that no one in their right mind would start down the path of heroin abuse simply because free needles were offered at a clinic down the road.

Data has shown that Naloxone is very effective in saving lives that are on the brink of overdose. Just last week, two police officers were able to revive a woman who was overdosing on the Staten Island bridge in New York. Examples of the drug's effectiveness are seen nationwide. It is an important tool in the fight against heroin and morphine related deaths.

Al Jazeera is now reporting about an interesting dynamic within the small-town America plight of heroin abuse. Cincinnati, Ohio has long been a hub of powerful painkillers, previously pills and now heroin. Neighboring Kentucky is home to some of the highest opiate overdose rates in America. Both of these Appalachian states are passing laws to help those afflicted with drug dependency. Kentucky has increased pedestrian access to Naloxone and offered amnesty to those who need medical treatment after a heroin overdose. Ohio has gone one step further, allowing those people are not users themselves to carry Naloxone, in the hopes they can administer to loved ones in a time of need. Other people distribute the antidote to churches or other religious networks in order to address the growing problem.

Approximately five people die from opiate overdoses every day in Ohio. The problem in Kentucky is slightly worse, with an estimated three overdoses overdose fatalities each day. The problem spans from cities such as Dayton and Cincinnati, to some of the most rural areas in modern America including many communities in Kentucky.

In the last 20 years, approximately 10,000 people have been brought back to life using the prescription Naloxone. While Ohio's efforts seem to be helping many people living with drug dependency, the difference in laws between Ohio and Kentucky are also encouraging people to cross over the Ohio river in order to score drugs in Ohio. Kentucky will often hold alleged heroin users in jail for months before their trial, while Ohio does not. Therefore, the Ohio initiative has created a dynamic where nearby addicts flock to cities like Cincinnati.

There is hope for the growing problem of heroin trafficking and addiction. Project Lazarus, for instance, is a multi-faceted nonprofit organization that is challenging the growing virus. Using a multifaceted approach that reaches out to those people at high risk of overdose, overdose survivors, various community organizations, doctors, nurses, police, and policymakers, Project Lazarus educates communities and healthcare workers, and helps users practice damage control by giving them the antidotes and tools they need in order to live a healthier life. The issues of heroin dependency throughout the country are indisputable, and I believe that it is both cynical and defeatist to condemn those who are trying to help people in need.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

The Opium Economy Booms in Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN — The concerted efforts of Afghanistan and US governments will not be enough to curb this year’s opium industry in Afghanistan. The high unemployment rates and political instability in the country will create a surge of opium production and usage; which is predicted to break records for this year. With the threat of complete crop destruction forcing people into the arms of the Taliban, but also a desire to eradicate the drug, this year’s booming opium growth is prompting new courses of action.

Opium, from poppies, is the main ingredient used in heroin. Three-quarters of the world’s supply of opium is grown in Afghanistan. According to VICE News, it is predicted to reach ninety-percent by this year. The Washington Times reports there has been a thirty-six percent increase in poppy farm acreage, to approximately 516,000 acres. The US currently spends $7.5 billion on defensive measures against the opium trade.

Despite production of opium in mostly the southern and western provinces of Afghanistan, US forces are being located to the east to combat the trade. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction defends the shift to the east because it is “generally less than the threat in the south and southwest”. The US forces are trying to fight the trade in the opposite direction of the problem.

Because of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan forces have little jurisdiction in combatting the opium trade themselves. A report from Washington’s Afghanistan war watchdog said on the issue, “Drug labs, storage sites, and major trafficking networks are concentrated in rural areas that are increasingly off-limits to Afghan forces due the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) drawdown and declining security in these areas.”

Due to the end of the war in Afghanistan, foreign troops will be leaving by the end of the year, taking with them the most effective combative forces against the trade, as well as much of the country’s stability. As they face staggering unemployment and security concerns against forces like the Taliban, the lack of foreign aid could promote the opium industry.

Opium-use is rising among Afghans because of the tough economic times. The Guardian reports about 1.3 million Afghan adults were regular drug users in 2012 out of a population near 32 million.

Not only is the demand increasing, but it is providing jobs for those unemployed more than any other form of cultivation. Some see the possible utilization of opium production as a solution to actually provide economic growth and stability for the weak Afghan government. Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on counter-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan, told VICE News that because opium cultivation is labor-intensive and profitable, if the 806 square miles of opium fields last year were instead wheat then that would only create twenty percent of the jobs that the opium fields provided.

Felbab-Brown goes on to say, “What we really need to ask ourselves is, is it bad to have this illicit economy? It probably is bad, but is it much worse than the alternative? The alternative right now would be huge political instability and it would also be huge unemployment,” she said. “So yes, it’s undesirable that there is a major illicit economy that constitutes so much of the country’s GDP, but there’s just no way to walk away from that.”

What concerns the US government, though, is more than the illicitness of the opium trade and drug use; The US is more concerned with the implications that this trade can have on strengthening the Taliban and warlords.

The poor farmers are not the ones who profit off of the opium crop. The local warlords, Taliban, and wealthy elites connected to the government instead pocket the revenue, according to VICE News. The DEA claims that high-ranking Taliban members double as drug lords who finance terrorist attacks using drug money.

However, eradicating the drugs could also promote the Taliban. With eliminating the crops, it would cripple the poorest farmers who would them be forced to turn to the Taliban. Felbab-Brown told VICE News, “[…] what would inevitably happen is that eradication would target the poorest sectors of society, and they would then become dependent on the support of the Taliban for basic survival, and consequently they would dislike the state and dislike the counterinsurgency, and strengthen their bond to militants like the Taliban.”

To regulate the opium trade prompts the concern of drug use and funding terrorists, however to eliminate the trade offers similar outcomes. Graeme Smith, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told VICE News, “The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan will continue to be the world’s leading opium producer probably for many years to come and the international community will need to help Afghanistan get off the sauce when it comes to finding another way to bring in hard currency.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

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