The Opioid Crisis: How is it affecting our community and what strides are we taking against it?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 86% of those addicted to heroin first became addicted to opioid painkillers. 2015 graduate Samantha Huntley was among these.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 86% of those addicted to heroin first became addicted to opioid painkillers. 2015 graduate Samantha Huntley was among these.

Tony Madden, Editor-in-Chief

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It was early in the morning of Sunday, September 3 when Julie Oziah-Gideon found her daughter, Samantha Huntley, dead in her bedroom after an overdose. Huntley’s legs were crossed and her head hung down in the vomit on the bed just near the needle that was sitting in her lap.

“I just knew as a mom that something was very, very wrong before I even got close to her,” Oziah-Gideon said.

Despite extensive efforts to resuscitate Huntley, it was obvious that she had been dead long before she was discovered. Oziah-Gideon says that it was also too late for Narcan, a drug known for its ability to reverse the effects of overdoses, to do the job, as it must be administered within a certain time frame. Emergency Medical Technicians eventually broke the news to Huntley’s mother: there was nothing they could do.

“…I took a blanket and put it under her head and I sat with her for a couple hours…I kissed her face and her hand,” she said.

Huntley had struggled with opioid addiction since her sophomore year at Kickapoo, when she suffered a broken back after a car accident. She was prescribed the common painkiller hydrocodone after the accident, and became addicted. In the following years, Huntley’s addiction led her to turn to harder drugs like heroin.

“…that’s where it all started,” Oziah-Gideon said.

“She fought…she never gave up. She never just gave in and said ‘I can’t do this.’ She knew what she was going through. She knew it was going to be hard,” Julie Oziah-Gideon said. Oziah-Gideon’s daughter Samantha Huntley died of an overdose in early September after years of struggling with opioid addiction. Since Huntley’s death, her mother has actively spoken out on her family’s experience and the dangers of opioid misuse.

Huntley, who graduated in 2015, fell victim to what is now commonly referred to as the opioid crisis: the result of the rapid increase in United States opioid use, dependency, addiction and subsequent overdose deaths that began in the 1990s. CNN reports that 91 people in the United States die each day from opioid overdoses. Huntley was one of these on September 3 of this year.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines “opioids,” or “opiates,” as a class of drugs derived from the opium plant that is known for its pain-relieving properties. These drugs include, but are not limited to, street heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and codeine. While these drugs interact with the brain’s opioid receptors to disrupt the body’s pain signals, they also tend to induce a state of euphoria, which commonly leads to misuse. This has lead to opioid addiction and dependency for over 2 million Americans, the CDC reports.

The same CNN report says that, 63.1% of the 52,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2015 involved the misuse of opioid drugs. This resulted in the staggering average of 91 opioid overdose deaths each day in the United States. The CDC also reports that more than 1000 people are treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. each day as a result of opioid overdose. A TIME Magazine report says that researchers at the CDC have discovered that opioids also contributed to a recent decline in life expectancy in the United States from 2002 to 2015.

TIME also reports that the U.S. saw the number of overdose deaths increase more than six times its original number from 2002 to 2015. This is presumably related to rising popularity in fentanyl, a synthetic pain reliever similar to morphine, but often 50 to 100 times more potent, NIDA says.

A recent CDC report warns emergency responders about the dangers of fentanyl, as in some cases, the drug can be so potent that accidentally inhaling or even touching the drug can be deadly. A NIDA report says that fentanyl becomes most dangerous when it is mixed with heroin and/or cocaine, or when it replaces these drugs altogether.

Oziah-Gideon says that when the needle found in Huntley’s lap after her overdose was field-tested for methamphetamines and heroin, it tested negative for both. It is currently presumed that Huntley injected fentanyl or carfentanil (a derivative of fentanyl) when she overdosed. As of mid-November, the family is still awaiting lab results.

The same TIME report explains what exactly happens in the brain during addiction, with some help from Dr. Sarah Wakeman, director of the substance-use disorder initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital. Addiction is described as a “hijacking,” as the impulsive part of the brain driven by rewards goes into “overdrive,” Wakeman says. She also says that the dopamine released by these drugs can overpower the positive sensations from activities like eating. Oziah-Gideon says she noticed traits like these in her daughter during her struggles with addiction, as well as changes in her personality.

“She hardly ate…She got really skinny,” Oziah-Gideon said. “She had a really hard time making decisions, remembering things.” She also explained that Huntley would often fall asleep during family functions, sometimes even mid-sentence.

In October, President Trump officially declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. The New York Times reported that his statement did not, however, speak of the allocation of federal funds to address the crisis.

“No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” Mr. Trump said.

Taking a stand against the “public health crisis,” Walgreens Pharmacies announced a new policy on the overdose- reversing drug Narcan. Beginning in October, the pharmacy began selling the drug over-the-counter in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

“By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed,” president Rick Gates said. “As a pharmacy we are committed to making Narcan more accessible in the communities we serve.”

In an effort to combat the opioid crisis at Springfield Public Schools, counselors have been booking assemblies to inform the student body of the dangers and consequences of opioid misuse, and more specifically, the dangers of heroin.

“We just noticed in our community an increase of drug use…and we’ve had former students that we’ve lost to drug misuse,” counselor Amy Moran said. “We just want to try to make sure our kids know the consequences of [drug] abuse.”

In late October, Greene County Deputy Jeff Saylor, who also worked as a task force officer for the DEA, came to speak to the sophomore class about dangers of the opioid epidemic that he has encountered in his career.

Greene County Deputy Jeff Saylor speaks to a group of sophomores about the dangers of opioid drugs in late October. The assembly was organized shortly after 2015 graduate Samantha Huntley died of a heroin overdose in September. Photo by Jack Patrick.

“If I get up here and I tell you guys the truth…most of you will make the right decision when the time comes,” Saylor said to a group of sophomores about opioid drugs.

Saylor spoke to the sophomore class on a number of different topics concerning the epidemic. The first concerned the basic economic principle of supply and demand. He says that eradicating the supply of these drugs isn’t the difficult part of the “battle;” it’s eradicating the demand for them.

“I wish I had an answer,” Saylor said to Kickapoo High Quarterly. Saylor discussed though, how stopping the overprescription of opioid drugs in the U.S. may be a step toward stopping the crisis. According to NIDA, 86% of heroin users first misused opioid painkillers prior to using heroin. Huntley was among those who first became addicted to opioid

painkillers to manage the pain after her car accident.
Saylor ended the assembly with a familiar piece of advice for the

sophomore class: just say “no.” He says that heroin and other related opioid drugs aren’t like marijuana, because there will never be a coherent argument in their favor.

Moran says that while the Saylor assembly with the sophomore class was certainly beneficial, a larger assembly for the entire student body is being planned for December 15 of this year.

Famed former NBA player for the Boston Celtics Chris Herren, who struggled with opioid addiction for most of his basketball career, will speak to the student body about his trials and tribulations as an addict.

Despite the stigma that is often attached to drug addicts, Oziah-Gideon says that she is proud of her daughter. She’ll always remember Huntley by how hard she fought her addiction like in her time at rehabilitation centers, her will to help others, the way she said “I love you, mama,” and her everlasting persistence.

“She fought…she never gave up. She never just gave in and said ‘I can’t do this.’ She knew what she was going through. She knew it was going to be hard,” she said.

In order to avoid situations like her daughter’s, Oziah-Gideon wants students to be more aware of what can happen in the face of addiction.

“I just think that more needs to be done…Samantha never knew anything about heroin. She never learned anything about heroin at school,” she said.

Oziah-Gideon went on to say that the issue will not be resolved in schools unless administration and staff actively look out for these drugs and “crack down” on those found with them. She says that in the severity of Huntley’s battle with addiction, there had to have been at least one teacher, administrator, staff member or peer who could see that something was wrong.

“…it seems like nobody polices the kids in the schools like they should. Administration has to crack down on the kids at school,” Oziah-Gideon said. “These drugs are killing people. And my daughter is a prime example. I think that kids need to know that this is real.”

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The Opioid Crisis: How is it affecting our community and what strides are we taking against it?