Note: I wrote most of this post week before last. In the interim, another local man in his early 20’s overdosed. Good kid. Good family. The opioid epidemic is real–and it’s in your neighborhood.

This is kind of off topic, but it’s becoming more apparent by the day that maybe the number one threat facing our country is the mushrooming opioid epidemic. This recent Washington Post article reports that in 2014, opioid overdoses outnumbered murders in 45 states.

Some people overdose on pain pills. Most overdose on heroin. Many people don’t understand the link between heroin addiction and pain pills. I’ve talked to parents of heroin addicted young people who were unaware of the link.

Heroin addicts don’t start on heroin—or weed for that matter. They start on pain pills. Then they get hooked on pain pills. It’s very easy to get addicted/ hooked on pain pills. Take them for a week straight and it’s going to be hard to stop cold turkey.

But pain pills are expensive and hard to get. The street value of one OxyContin pill can be has high as $80 depending on the dosage. Many people can’t afford to be hooked on pain pills. [Donna Tart explained the economics of pain pills vs. heroin in her masterful novel The Goldfinch.] In contrast, most people can afford to be hooked on heroin.

Shooting heroin sounds like playing Russian roulette. The dose that felt great a few weeks ago kills you this week.

I recommend the book Dreamland, which covers the rise of OxyContin and heroin addiction. The two amazing facts in the book to me were that (1) in many cities heroin is delivered like a pizza; and (2) it’s cheap. As cheap as alcohol.

At least every couple of weeks I see in the Clarion-Ledger the obituary of a kid in their early 20’s who died of an overdose. When I was in college, everyone knew someone who died in a car wreck. Now college kids all no someone who died of an overdose.

It’s scary and it often starts with a pain pill. Pain pills are extremely addictive. OxyContin is particularly addictive. Junkies have told me they’ve done every drug there is and that OxyContin is the most addictive of them all.

In Mississippi, there are as many opioid prescriptions in a year as people. Everyone getting opioids filled is not taking them. Some people turn around and sell them to drug dealers. It’s big business.

And people can overdose on pain pills, particularly when mixed with alcohol and other sedatives.

I don’t have the answer to who should get pain pills and who shouldn’t. I don’t even have an opinion. Perhaps age should be a factor in pain pill prescriptions.

I remember when doctors didn’t prescribe pain pills for conditions like broken bones and severe cuts. In college I suffered multiple broken bones and one severe cut. I was never prescribed pain pills.

Once, I badly broke my hand. The fix was to re-set it, which involved breaking it again. It was terrible–and painful. I got pain shots for the re-break, but nothing to go home with. It was very painful for a couple of weeks. Pain pills would have helped. But would it have offset the risk of exposing a 20 year old to opium? I don’t know.

The opioid epidemic is scary and not fully understood by enough people. And it’s getting worse. It’s the number one thing parents of teenagers and young adults need to be talking to their kids about.