U.S. Attorney General addresses heroin, prescription drug problem

For years, La Crosse law enforcement have been talking about the growing heroin problem in our community.  Monday, the country’s top law enforcement officer says the problem is growing on a national scale.

Attorney General Eric Holder called the heroin problem a growing public health crisis.  But to solve it, the focus can’t just be on heroin.  That’s because the gateway to a heroin addiction might be sitting in your medicine cabinet.

“Right now fewer drugs are more lethal than prescription opiates and heroin,” says Holder, who says the heroin problem in the U.S. is only getting worse, “it’s clear that opiate addiction is an urgent and growing public health crisis.”

But while heroin addiction grabs the headlines, it’s often the result of a much more common drug that could already be in your home.  “The cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse,” says Holder.  “People don’t start off as heroin addicts,” says Mike Desmond, co-chair of the La Crosse Heroin Task Force.  Desmond says in most cases, the real severe addiction starts with prescription drugs.  “That’s where a lot of them are getting addicted,” says Desmond, “and the only reason they’re going to it is it’s cheaper.”

Both Holder and Desmond agree, solving the problem will take not only law enforcement, but counselors and mentors.  “Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement as well as treatment,” says Holder.  The Attorney General is prepared to bring the strength of federal law enforcement to take on drug supply, but Desmond says the other half of the battle, is getting to kids before they get hooked.  “A lot of it has to do with prevention and trying to do things educationally for young kids, especially kids who are hurting,” says Desmond, “helping kids, young people that have issues of depression, anxiety and so forth and are using drugs to self medicate.”

One recommendation the heroin task force will likely make to the city is to install permanent drug drop off boxes at police stations, Desmond says there are just far too many unused prescription drugs laying around that kids and addicts can get their hands on.

A heroin addiction is so dangerous because it creates a chemical change in your body and brain.  You can’t just wake up and say, ‘I’m going to quit,’ your body is relying on that opiate and the side effects are too difficult to handle.

Attorney General Holder points out that overdose deaths in the U.S. jumped 45% from 2006 to 2010.