Hilbert Faculty Weigh In on Region’s Heroin Epidemic

by Kyle English

All too often there is a story in the news about how heroin claims another victim. The heroin epidemic that this country is facing and trying to combat is continuing to spread and is not showing signs of ceasing any time soon.
Erie County has been plagued with a particularly severe heroin problem. According to the Buffalo News, ten deaths in the county were linked to heroin in the first ten days of March.
Like many problems, it is important to recognize the causes of heroin use and get to the basis of the problem before it can be fixed.
The root of the problem stems from a failing society, according to Dr. Yvonne Downes, a criminology professor at Hilbert College. “We have failed to persuade our people that it will damage their lives and to provide them with the treatment needed to escape addiction.”
Many professionals agree that there are two routes to heroin use, youth and addiction to prescription painkillers. “Many young people are bored, miserable, and do not see good avenues for their future. This leads them to make disastrous mistakes, and the cheap and easy availability of illegal recreational substances helps them feel better in the short term,” said Downes.
Dr. Martin Floss, a Criminal Justice Professional and educator and Hilbert College agrees. “The addiction to legally prescribed pain-killers is at the heart of the most recent epidemic. Patients get drugs for pain and those pills are narcotics…and people like the drugs and turn to heroin or other forms of narcotics.”
“We need to stop treating these folks as criminals and make substance abuse treatment easily and cheaply available,” said Downes, who continues by saying that until that is established nothing can be done.
One temporary “solution” being applied is the use of NARCAN, a drug used on those people who overdose on heroin. This drug counteracts the effects and can save the lives of those who have overdosed.
“Narcan saves people who overdose,” said Floss, who favors its use, as many times as needed. He recognizes that using it multiple times on the same person contributes to the argument of a “crutch”, but it is not the first responder’s decision on who lives and who dies.
Downes shares a similar believe but points out that there needs to be restrictive sanctions when it comes to using NARCAN.
“Those receiving it must be subject to mandatory treatment in a residential placement for some period of time. People who are overdosing clearly have a problem beyond simple addiction and should be treated as suicidal,” says Downes.
Both Downes and Floss showed support for Svante Myrick, who wants supervised injection facilities to exist in his city.
Floss says that this follows Europe’s standard by viewing addictions as a health issue not a criminal issue. “By having such sites, we would be able to engage more addicts and try to convince more to get help, we would also be providing clean needles that do not infect others.
Dr. Downes added to Floss’s point by noting that the majority of heroin pose very little or no danger to society and do not show any signs of violence. “Getting the problem out into public view where they acquire and use the drug with relative safety will decrease other social problems and provide the best chance for them to survive and get better.”
Regardless of where the person is from or how he or she is, heroin is accessible to and used by a large variety of individuals. Until the people of society, government, and law enforcement change their views and policies on the problem of heroin, the issue will only continue to grow.

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