During a four-day period at the end of April, Kenosha Fire Department paramedics answered 10 drug overdose calls. All survived through the use of Narcan, either from paramedics or people with the users.
The number of overdoses in that short span of time prompted the Kenosha Health Department to warn drug users that if they do use heroin, do it with someone.
The city and county have also developed ways to help drug users through programs on the use of Narcan, handing out Narcan for free, drug treatment courts and counseling programs.
The AIDS Resource Center this spring began distributing fentanyl test strips to help drug users identify whether their drugs have been laced with the more deadly additive.
There are also many organizations and treatment centers in the area available to help.
But what about the root causes of taking drugs?
There are many — curiosity, “everyone’s doing it,” rebelling against parents, escape from boredom, “seemed like fun,” easy availability, dependence from pain medication after an injury, to name a few.
That’s not all.
Guida Brown, executive director of Hope Council, said 50 percent of drug use is genetically based. These users are predisposed to using drugs because a family member in the past had an addiction.
Whether it be alcohol or drugs, it becomes part of the family DNA. Maybe someone’s grandfather used opioid painkillers, because of cancer. Maybe someone in the family was addicted to prescriptions. Or maybe someone’s uncle was an alcoholic. It all plays a role.
Put that together with environment and relationships and you have a recipe for disaster.
Brown added that 30 percent of all addicts also have an underlying mental illness and use drugs to self-medicate, and four of five addicts start with opioids then go to heroin.
The Mayo Clinic agrees, saying heroin addiction starts with opioid painkillers prescribed or given to them by family members or friends. Opioids have a higher risk of addiction and cause addiction faster than others substances.
Brown said she has seen or heard stories of people offering their medications to others and cites the entire culture of taking pills as a problem. It gives acceptance to taking pills to cure what ails you.
How do we break the cycle?
Delay the start of taking drugs or alcohol to after 18 with programs such as DARE or the Kenosha Unified School District’s 10th-grade health curriculum, Brown said. She cited studies that revealed that delaying drug use resulted in fewer people becoming addicts than if they started at 15.
The greatest tool of all, Brown said, is parents talking with their children, starting with having dinner together three to five times a week.
We are not talking about it enough, she said. We are not addressing it in conversation appropriately; we don’t want to tell our children that grandma was a pill addict.
Many still don’t recognize addiction as a disease.
While there is no doubt that people who are addicted need emergency solutions and treatment programs, we also need to get back to the basics.
Understand it is a disease, that people who have it in their family history may be predisposed to becoming addicts, don’t avoid the conversation, develop strong family relationships and address underlying mental illness issues.
These steps, and rejecting the idea that handing out pills for everything, will go a long way to curbing the cycle of drug abuse.