Heroin resurgence reaches Mississippi

Generations ago, parents just had to worry about their children getting into their liquor cabinet. Now, they have to worry about their medicine cabinet, too.

According to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics (MBN), prescription-drug abuse is one of the newest problems with which it deals. The habit is not just grabbing adults but filtering down to children as young as middle-school age.

MBN agent Jimmie Nichols has been speaking around the state about an alarming trend in illicit drugs. His visuals would be enough to put a person off his lunch. The rotted teeth and pock-marked faces of meth addicts. The incoherent, psychotic rambling of a person under the influence of spice. The barbarity committed by a smoker of bath salts.

Those are disturbing enough. But, say Nichols, MBN Director John Dowdy and others who deal with drug addicts in the court system, there is another epidemic sweeping this state. It’s one that springs from prescription-drug abuse: the re-emergence of heroin as a narcotic of choice.

As the nation has cracked down on doctors being too liberal in doling out painkilling but highly addictive opioids, those who are hooked on prescription drugs have been turning to the streets for an alternative when previous legal channels have been cut off. Heroin usage is up significantly, and with it heroin-related deaths.

Last year, according to the MBN, the state recorded 235 overdose deaths, more than double the number recorded in 2015. Dowdy says that although toxicology reports are still pending on some of the 2016 cases, it is believed that 80 to 85 percent of the deaths were heroin-related.

No one disputes there is a problem. The daunting challenge is figuring out what to do about it.

Dowdy has one simple suggestion for parents and grandparents. Don’t leave their prescriptions accessible to children. Dowdy says that children are stealing them and either using them or selling them to their classmates — fostering a habit that down the road could lead to heroin addiction.

Another idea might be to not fill a pain-killing prescription in the first place. Not every discomfort, especially those that are temporary or non-debilitating, has to be treated with an opioid. Some over-the-counter pain relievers can suffice. They’re not as powerful as hydrocodone, oxycodone and the like, but they are less risky to those for whom they are prescribed and those for whom they’re not.

You don’t have to hide what you don’t bring home.

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