Heroin: Rapid Response Measures

There is an increasing, systemic awareness of how opiates (opium, heroin & other organic derivatives) and opioids (synthetic, similar acting pharmaceutical compounds) are being used in unhealthy ways with poor to tragic outcomes. Overdoses, from the streets to upper-margin America, mark the darkest points of this phenomena.

At the national level, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has recently published guidelines for prescribers of painkillers to respond to the increasing epidemic. The story (http://nyti.ms/1RnywfV) explaining rationale cites nationwide overdose rates that would still surprise most consumers and patients who appear to be more in tune with what is happening among the more educated, informed among the global community.

In my clinical collaboration with Dr. Nathaniel Moore and the Addiction Recovery Center for Healing (ARCHdetox.com) in Aurora, Colorado, he and I are exercising the voluntary prescription guidelines coming forward from the national public health community whenever they are appropriate. Guidelines such as these are made effective in practice delivery points where prescribers are philosophically open in practice and procedure such as Doctor Moore.

Two systemic venues for increasing awareness not only of the risks inherent with opiates and opioids but actions to be taken remain surprisingly small. High schools that are frequently the ‘grieving grounds’ for overdose battle to moderate and respond to all levels of illicit drug use. From the declining academic performance of high school marijuana use and conflicted disciplinary policy that expedites student expulsions to overdose, awareness has been fairly well achieved. Guidance on active response is the necessary next step.

Families are the other systemic venue requiring a combined approach. A surprising number of them also react in disbelief when they discover their sons or daughters compromised, let alone deceased, from substance use of any sort including heroin. Methamphetamine and cocaine remain frequent compatriots to heroin in the triumvirate of “real” drugs that many youngsters regard as different from marijuana. The parents and other loved ones are a system with the potential to empower kids beyond awareness into action.

I am a clinical interventionist designing and offering public “Primers” – brief talks and open discussions on illicit drug use for schools and families, respectively. Educators are hungry, ambitious to develop techniques and tactics to respond to student drug use in inclusive & proactive ways. So, too, are families who have moved from “why our kid?” to “what can we do about it?” I encourage and applaud any other clinical specialists with substance use knowledge to act in the same public health manner. It is time for the behavioral health community to fully assume its role in helping schools and families take effective action.

David Petersen, LCSW, LAC