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Heroin Overdoses Called Public Health Crisis

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Attorney General Eric Holder's alarming ‘' public health crisis " concerning heroin overdoses comes as no surprise to those who are battling addiction and those who are trying to help addicts with that battle.

Ryan talks about how he started drinking when he was 12 years old, added pot to the mix, and kept experimenting with various drugs until his first hit of heroin got him higher than he's ever been in his life.   For this young man, now 22,  it's been quite a ride,‘' suffering'' as he called it, as we spoke in the luxurious setting of  Inspire Malibu's residential treatment center, which, for the record, is  "Malibu  Adjacent ." 

Ryan has been trying to stay clean for years.  It's not easy.  Heroin, like other drugs, has the ability to essentially re-wire part of your brain, so when you try to give it up, you're craving it even more.

 He stole from his family, his friends, used whatever money he earned to buy drugs, Eventually moving from expensive 30 dollar per pill stolen Oxycontins  to ( relatively ) inexpensive 10 or 15 dollar bags of heroin.  

It's a vicious cycle:  dependency, trying to  quit, relapsing, trying something new and different, and partly explains why 80 percent of those who try to kick  opiates  relapse within a year.  

This time Ryan says he's ready to make it work, and I hope he's right.  

Mitchell, who's 37 , is approaching one year of being sober after he graduated from Inspire Malibu. He describes heroin as a ‘'subtle'' drug, that kind of sneaks up on you. 

"You always say you'll quit tomorrow, then tomorrow, then there are more tomorrows, and before you know if you're addicted ." 

"Or dead ? " I ask, thinking most recently of Philip Seymour Hoffman.   ‘'Or dead, yeah, and then you're really screwed."

Mitchell , who grew up in Studio City,  described matter of factly that he went through his savings and most of a $50,000 inheritance in just five months at one point.   

Why are they speaking out ?   The interviews were arranged by the public relations firm working for a psychiatrist named  Dr. A.R. Mohammad, who, as he put it , has ‘'dedicated his life to removing the stigma of drug addiction." 

His approach, if you can afford it ,or have insurance that pays up to , $25,000 a month for a residential treatment program, combines intense personal, group, and family therapy with medication (Suboxone).  

 He feels a multi-dimensional approach works best, and to hear Philip Seymour Hoffman went to ‘'rehab'' for ten days is, to him,  completely absurd.    

Talking with the doctor and the reformed addicts, you really feel a sense of the huge battle these folks deal with every day:  the temptation, the physical cravings, the escape from reality that drugs offer.  

 It's good that Holder is sounding the alarm but a lot of people heard it long ago. The question is what, if anything, to do about it.   Just wanting to quit certainly doesn't seem to be enough. 

@foxphil

(FOX11/AP)  Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called the increase in heroin-related deaths an "urgent and growing public health crisis" and said first responders should carry with them a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

The video message posted on the Justice Department's website reflects the federal government's concern about the growing prevalence of heroin and prescription painkillers.

The number of overdose deaths involving heroin increased by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and several state governors have recently drawn attention to the impact of heroin abuse in their communities.

"Addiction to heroin and other opiates, including certain prescription pain-killers, is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life -- and all too often, with deadly results," Holder said in the message.

The attorney general's public support for an antidote that could be used to rescue overdosing drug users mirrors the position of the White House drug policy office, which has also urged all first responders to have the medication on hand. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone -- commonly known by the brand name Narcan -- to be distributed to the public, and bills are pending in some states to increase access to it.

Advocates say Narcan, which comes in a spray and injectable form, has the potential to save many lives if administered within a certain window. But critics fear that making the antidote too accessible could encourage drug use.

Holder said law enforcement is combating the overdose problem, including by cutting off the supply chain that illicitly furnishes prescription painkillers to drug addicts. But he said more work is needed to prevent and treat drug addiction.

"Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both," he said.

Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates against what it sees as "the excesses" of the war on drugs, said in addition to promoting broader access to Narcan, the Justice Department should also back better education about heroin abuse and promote "Good Samaritan" laws that protect from prosecution individuals who call police to report an overdose. The organization said in a statement that it believes the antidote should be made available to anyone who might be in a position to witness an overdose, such as a friend or relative of an addict.

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