Editorial: Nodding off, checking out

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The accused are innocent until proved guilty. That said, the scenario painted by a recent Salisbury Police report shows how reckless and selfish heroin makes people.

After she saw a car parked near a car wash Friday for an extended period of time, a police officer found a young couple passed out in the front seat. A needle was sticking out of the man’s arm. The woman was slumped over behind the wheel, with the car’s engine running. But the two were not alone. A young child was in a car seat behind them, sweating profusely, crying and kicking the back of the front seat. The adults were oblivious.

According to police, the woman later admitted she and her husband had used heroin before nodding off.

Several serious problems are eating away at the foundation of our society, but few kill as many people or wreck as many lives as drug abuse. In recent years, profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies recklessly fueled the overuse and abuse of prescription painkillers. Once addicts found they could no longer afford or obtain those drugs, they turned to heroin. And dealers were happy to supply them.

The results have been disastrous. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Some 18,893 of those overdose deaths were related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 were related to heroin.

Even if users are smart enough not to OD, heroin ruins their lives in other ways, as the couple who nodded off in their car demonstrate. Addicts become obsessed with the drug, ignoring  their other needs and responsibilities. They get criminal records, lose custody of their children, buy drugs instead of food and steal to support their addiction.

What’s to be done? Communities across the country are searching for answers. An Orlando, Fla., task force recently came up with 37 ideas. They include equipping police and deputies with naloxone, a medicine that instantly reverses the potentially fatal effect of heroin; increasing the number of so-called “detox beds” to treat addicts; creating a program for heroin-addicted inmates in the county jail; additional training for medical professionals; and a social-media campaign aimed at discouraging the use of heroin, sometimes viewed as a celebrity drug.

Some celebrity — being found passed out in a car, your child wailing in the back seat. Condemnation is inevitable. Can they count on help beating their addiction as well?