Drug use is insidious, prevalent
The grim numbers from the Waukesha County Medical Examiner's office tell the deadly tale of heroin and opiate abuse in the Lake Country area.
While the partial results for the first six months of 2013 are preliminary, it shows no signs of abating
"There were 29 overdose deaths identified, so it is at least on pace to match the previous year," said Kristine Klenz, Waukesha County Deputy Medical Examiner.
"Of these 29 cases, 10 involved heroin alone or in combination with another substance, 16 of the 29 involved opiate medications and three were from other substances," she added.
"In 2012 there were a total of 59 drug-related death in the county," Klenz said.
"Of these 59, 21 involved heroin. That could be heroin alone, or involved with other substances, but it was identified as contributing to the death," she explained.
Prescription opiates were identified as playing a role in 27 of the 59 deaths.
The remaining 10 cases were overdoses from other substances, which could be other prescription medications, over the counter drugs, or anything other than heroin or prescription opiates.
"That is the highest number this office has ever encountered," Klenz said.
"59 compared to Milwaukee sounds like a pretty small number, but the preceding year (in Waukesha County) was 47. It has been incrementally increasing every year for the last three years," she noted.
"Heroin is on the rise, but prescription opiates has been an ongoing problem that preceded the heroin spike," Klenz pointed out.
In 2011, there were 47 drug related drug related fatalities, with six attributed to heroin, and 35 to opiate prescription medication.
Dr. Michael Miller,
medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Hospital, knows well how the drug trends have impacted the area.
"Alcohol is king in Wisconsin and always has been, it's part of the culture; local taverns, breweries in every little community; our professional sports teams are named after breweries. Alcohol has been a common addiction and the number one reason people go to addiction counseling in Wisconsin is alcohol," he said.
"Through the 70s-80s-90s with marijuana and cocaine, alcohol has always been number one, but, it is finally meeting its match," the doctor added.
"We're seeing now that half or more of treatment admissions is for opioids. It is an epidemic as far as illness and it is an epidemic as far as people requesting help. It's all ages, all socio-economic groups, and it's completely invaded every community of every size in every state," Miller said.
The doctor said that while medicine has made strides in understanding addiction, more needs to be done.
"What the science has taught us is that addiction is not about the drugs, it's about the brains. Addiction happens to 15-20 percent of the public. That means over 80 percent of the public doesn't have addiction and it makes it hard for them to understand what addiction is and how somebody can lose control; how that is not a sign of personal weakness, it's a sign of a disease," the doctor explained.
"It's hard to understand the preoccupation; people who are addicted think about their drug all day. The thing that differentiates those with addiction from those without are that the brains are different," he said.
"People who would never even think of taking heroin, what happens is people get on pain pills that a doctor prescribed for them. Once those opiodes interacted with the brain reward circuitry, the addictive process would be kick-started. There is a big association between the change in prescribing patterns for pain medications that began in the 1990s and the epidemic of addiction.
"The pattern is people will begin using the pain pills and get euphoria from them and will find them enjoyable, will seek more, will get preoccupied, will use them regularly, will develop tolerance, will withdraw when they stop so physically hooked, take more meds to prevent withdrawal and are in the cycle of being addicted to pain pills.
"Then their tolerance goes up and the pain pills get expensive for them and somebody says there's something that gives you a much stronger high for a much lower price. It's heroin.
Then they are off and running with that," the addiction expert cautioned.
Miller points to the campaign to warn the public of the dangers of cigarette smoking. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's report that issued warnings.
"We've gone from a country with something like 55 percent of men and 40 percent of women smoking, to now smoking rates are in the low 20s. Overall smoking rates are below 20 percent. It has taken forever, but it has worked," he said.
"Absolutely there needs to be more awareness and better brain science. The funding for research on AIDS vs. to the funding for research on addiction is just not comparable. But addiction directly affects 10 — 15 percent of the population and then family members drive that number up," Miller added.
The Wisconsin Christian Recovery Network and Recovery Solutions of Wisconsin will also hold a summit in Oconomowoc April 13-16 at Olumpia Resort called the A.S.K. (Ask, Seek, Knock) Convention and wlecomes people in recovery, family members, civic leaders,treatment providers, teachers and other concerned people to attend. It will offer worskhops, peer leadership training, recovery resources, speakers, worship band and banquet. For more information, call (608) 577-3416, or (608) 352-1877, or (608) 509-1449.
According to the Coalition Against Drug Abuse
Individuals who abuse heroin may exhibit a number of symptoms. However, not all abusers will react to the drug in the same way. While signs and symptoms of abuse may vary from person to person, most people exhibit certain symptoms and behavior indicative of an abuse problem. Signs of heroin abuse include:
Hyperactivity followed by fatigue
Irresponsibility at work or school
Wearing long shirts and pants even during warm weather
Track marks on arms or legs
Constant runny nose
Scabs or bruises due to picking at the skin
Withdrawal symptoms, which can occur if the addict is not using every 6-12 hours, can range from mild flu-like symptoms to headaches, vomiting and diarrhea and an obsession with getting more of the drug.
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