Archive for the ‘Drug Abuse’ Category

By: Mikas Hansen

The East African region has experienced a period of immense growth and development in the last ten years. Unfortunately, not all communities have benefitted to the same degree. A recent trip back to Nairobi, Kenya blew me away as the bustling, pot-holed, and integrated city I had once grown up in had developed into a paved, efficient, and organized metropolitan hub. I was excited for the nation and the progress it had made towards solving many of its historic political, medical, and economic issues. I was blinded by all of the positive influences that globalization had on the nation. However, a friend recently shared a YouTube documentary named “Zombies of Nairobi” which investigated the domestic drug scene and the reasons for its abuse. This documentary brought a point of realization to my initial outlook on the modernization of Kenya and inspired me to dig deeper and explore the underbelly of a city I once called home.

Though Kenya has managed to double its GDP in the past ten years, the main issue comes with economic inequality and the distribution of wealth across the population. The top 0.1% of the wealthiest individuals own more wealth than the next 99.9%. Furthermore, a massive influx of refugees from the Horn of Africa has even further increased the number of individuals living under the poverty line. As of 2016, 46% of the population lives under the poverty line, only 20% have access to medical coverage, and there is a 67% enrollment in primary education with illiteracy still rising. (“Kenya at a Glance”, 2016) The combination of these factors has led to a number of public health issues to arise, one of which being the abuse of vapor solvents.


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By Polina Ukrainets

As a student of psychology and public health and as someone that grew up in Baltimore, I see the issue of addiction as an extremely important one. For decades there have been debates on how to handle addiction and whether it is a problem of criminal justice or of public health. Lately, and fortunately, there have been increasing attempts to make it the latter. (more…)

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By Adrianna Wurster

Over the past several years there has been a large increase in heroin distribution and use throughout smaller cities, and recently, the drug has made strong appearances in surrounding suburbs. Rochester, New York and its surrounding suburbs have seen a forty percent increase in heroin related overdoses from 2014 to 2015. As a resident of Rochester, I have become increasingly aware of its availability outside of the city limits. I have heard high school age students openly talking about getting their next bag, calling it “that Lady H”.  Heroin use is now a local threat which is part of a greater national trend throughout the United States.

Production of opium is on the rise and it is much purer than it was back in the late 1960’s and 70’s according to Rochester’s forensic chemist supervisor, James Wesley. The purity level allows the drug to be snorted, which can be more appealing to some that would otherwise be turned off by the idea of having to inject. In Rochester, it is not uncommon for users to be in their late teens and early twenties. A recent department of health report found that heroin accounted for 34 percent of addiction treatment admission in 2013 as compared to just 1 percent in 2000.

I found myself asking, “Why Rochester?” It stems from the socioeconomic climate that surrounds the city, with the tenth highest poverty rate in the nation and over 30 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. According the the U.S. census, American Community Survey for 2009-2013, Rochester has the highest rate of extreme poverty of any comparable sized city in the United States. (Extreme poverty is defined as below 50% of the poverty level). In addition, Rochester’s poor were affected by a lack of long-term full-time employment opportunities. Some 57.3 percent of Rochester’s poor were classified as “not in the workforce.” Among the 42.7 percent “in the workforce,” also known as the “working poor,” 76.9 percent were only able to work part-time jobs or work in seasonal temporary jobs. Only 13.6 percent of Rochester’s poor were employed full-time.


Extreme Poverty Rates Among Cities of Rochester’s Size
Rank City Extreme Poverty Rate*
1 Rochester 16.2%
2 Hartford 16.0%
3 Buffalo 15.1%
4 Richmond 13.9%
5 Birmingham 13.7%
6 New Orleans 13.6%
7 Fresno 13.2%
8 Grand Rapids 11.9%
9 Tucson 11.8%
10 Bridgeport 10.9%

*Courtesy of Benchmark Rochester’s Poverty Report


Table 6: Workforce Participation and Work Experience of the Poor
1. Workforce participation:
Number of Poor People Percent
Poor – In the workforce 18,672 42.7%
Poor – Not in the workforce 25,067 57.3%
Total poor population over age 16 43,739 100%
2. Work experience of those in the workforce:
Worked full time, full year 2,540 13.6%
Worked part time of part year 14,360 76.9%
Did not work 1,772 9.5%
Total poor in the workforce 18,672 100%
*Courtesy of Benchmark Rochester’s Poverty Report



With widespread poverty and unemployment, it sparks interest in doing illegal activity, like drug distribution, just to make that “quick buck”. “The other problem is that for every drug dealer we arrest, three replace them. If you drive up Clinton Street, you will find a drug dealer on every corner for two miles. In some cases, there can be 5 or 6 drug dealers on one block. We are overwhelmed” said Gonzalez, a Rochester police officer.  There is always another person looking for the money.

Most of the heroin that has been found in suburbs has come from city dealers. In contrast, the towns with the highest prevalence of drug use tend to be more affluent. Pittsford, NY is one of the surrounding suburbs with the highest heroin abuse among young adults and teens according the Monroe County Sheriff’s office. There is a direct correlation between access to the drug and wealth of the family of the user. Most of the young adults have the drug readily available to them but are also able to pay the cost per increase dosage to feed the fast addiction.

Another element to heroin drug use among young adults is the notion that the drug is “chill.” The stereotype surrounding the non-injectable heroin is that it is not scary, it won’t make you do crazy things or stay up all day and hallucinate like amphetamines or coke. People tend to just think “oh it’s a nice happy drug that costs $10”.  After first use however, the feeling is not quite the same and a higher dosage is needed to feel that same high. A tolerance for low dosage is built fast which only fuels the addictive nature.

Progress has been made to stop the distribution of heroin around Rochester.  In July 2015, Monroe county police arrested and charged 3 people with possession and distribution of heroin, one of the people being a distributer from Philadelphia. Although there are programs and different policies regarding the drug, progress is slow and more direct action must be made to ensure the safety of residents and also the health of users.


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By Hayara Cardoso


Growing up on Cape Cod, I was accustomed to the familiar sites: crowded beaches, overwhelming amounts of tourists, freshly fried seafood, and busy ice cream parlors. Recently, another scene has been added to this list—heroin abuse. Massachusetts has been struck with a dramatic increase in heroin abuse and overdose in the last decade; in the data from 2014 alone, the number of overdoses due to heroin has increased by 63% since 2012 overdose deaths[1]. The trends in data predict that this death toll will continue to increase, lest we put an end to this public health crisis.

Across the Atlantic in the Netherlands there has been quite the opposite trend in heroin addiction—it’s on its way to being eradicated. In the 1990’s, the Dutch healthcare system started a public health movement to rid the nation of its horrible addiction problem. Treatment centers were opened up where addicts—whom were strictly pre-screened to determine high levels of addiction—are able to go to in order to safely inject themselves with a pure, government-made heroin, using clean needles and proper sanitary procedures[2]. Heroin isn’t the only benefit addicts receive from this program—without the necessity to find money or buy drugs everyday, these individuals now have the time and opportunities to look for housing, get psychological help, apply for jobs, and live normal lives. In fact, without that daily “rush” to find a way to get heroin, many addicts lose interest in the drug and stop all together[3]. The success of this Dutch program has influenced more European countries to begin similar practices.

In addition to a decrease in addiction prevalence, crime incidence has also decreased[4]. Criminal behavior can be associated with heroin use, as often individuals who use are not able to afford their addictions, and instead are left to steal from their families, friends, or stores/shops in order to pawn or sell their belongings for money. The thrill of seeking out money and heroin is taken away from these addicts, which decreases their criminal behaviors, and helps improve the safety of the entire society.

As demonstrated by the way these European nations manage addiction, heroin addicts are treated as if they are suffering from any other condition that requires medical attention. They receive respect, safe and sanitary materials, and in most cases freedom from their raveling addiction. So why can’t the United States adopt a similar strategy?

Changing the stigma behind addiction in the US is the first step to solving this public health crisis. Addiction—whether alcohol or caffeine, drugs or gambling—is something that is consistently seen in a bad light. “Just stop drinking” or “you could quit if you really wanted to” are common remarks made by the more ignorant population, as they don’t understand the complexity behind addiction. Addiction is currently described as a “chronic, relapsing psychiatric disorder”[5], instead of the previous notion of habits or behavioral issues, which some people still think to be true. The entire significance behind changing the way we as a country treat addiction lies at the root: we must change the stigma. Understanding the strength of addiction and the toll it takes on an individual’s body and brain is what first and foremost will help us most in treatment of addiction. With that being said, the next step is the health care system itself: the US must adapt to treating addiction as a psychological disorder, and not merely a detox program. Counseling and therapy are the two most important factors in recovery, as addicts need the psychological support in order to overcome their dependencies and themselves.

The US likes to be the best at many facets of the international world. Why shouldn’t health care be one of them? This heroin epidemic is one that will continue to increase and spread if not handled properly. The number of heroin or opioid related overdoses will continue to rise if we as a nation do not change the frame that we look through. By de-stigmatizing addiction and increasing the availability of and quality of treatment, this epidemic can be tackled head on and stopped before it gets out of hand. This vicious cycle is one that can be stopped.




Berry, Connor. “Massachusetts DPH: Overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids continue to rise.” Mass Live, October 21, 2015. Accessed February 23, 2016.



Blanken, et al. “Heroin-assisted treatment in the Netherlands: History, findings, and international context.” American Neuropsychopharmacology 20 (2010): S105-158. Accessed February 23, 2016. doi:10.1016/S0924-977X(10)70001-8.

Roes, Thijas. “Only in the Netherlands Do Addicts Complain about Free Government Heroin.” Vice News, May 6, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2016. https://news.vice.com/


Leshner, A.I. “Addiction is a brain disease, and it matters.” Science 278 (1997): 45–47.

[1] Berry, Connor. “Massachusetts DPH: Overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids continue to rise.” Mass Live, October 21, 2015.

[2] Blanken, et al. “Heroin-assisted treatment in the Netherlands: History, findings, and international context.” American Neuropsychopharmacology 20 (2010): S111-113.

[3] Roes, Thijas. “Only in the Netherlands Do Addicts Complain about Free Government Heroin.” Vice News, May 6, 2014.

[4] Blanken, et al. “Heroin-assisted treatment in the Netherlands: History, findings, and international context.” American Neuropsychopharmacology 20 (2010): S109-110, 134.

[5] Leshner, A.I. “Addiction is a brain disease, and it matters.” Science 278 (1997): 45–47.

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-By Samantha Zito

Harm reduction strategies used to address drug addiction are hotly debated. Harm reduction focuses on keeping people alive and as healthy as possible instead of focusing on complete rehabilitation or “cures” for the addiction. The public health field is moving more and more towards harm minimization strategies to address problems such as addiction, especially in urban areas. While some countries are turning towards a public health approach to drug addiction, others such as Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain, the United States continues to push drug addiction into a legal debate including the criminalization of drugs even with the devastating effects of overdoses and escalating addiction rates. One of the strongest examples of harm reduction strategies in drug addiction are medically supervised injecting centers. Although many cities in the United States would greatly benefit from these centers, many obstacles stand in the way of the possibility of these radical harm minimization strategies. (more…)

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By Mahra Weber

We’re all familiar with the phrase “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”. It’s an anthem, calling for adults to unwind and reward themselves after a long day at work. Drinking alcohol is a prominent social component of many cultures. However, anything in excess usually produces bad results. In a recent Reuters article titled “Alcohol-linked deaths a problem for the Americas”, alcohol is discussed as a cause of many premature deaths in the US, Canada, and areas of Central America and South America. In the US, where the legal drinking age is 21 years of age, there is an emphasis on the dangers of underage drinking. The article takes a different view, emphasizing the effects of many years of drinking throughout life. Years of excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver failure, gastric problems, and neurotoxicity. (more…)

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By Laura Kodack

I came across one article that caught my eye, not the title itself but more of the facts that were in the article. The article titled “Russia’s love affair with Vodka lures many to an early grave” was shocking but almost expected. Eastern Europeans are known for their consumption and love for vodka but the article revealed some interesting news I was not aware of. I was surprised to see so many Russians still drinking Vodka though they know high consumption of alcohol leads to early death. What surprised me the most was how drastic the changes in mortality rates were due to the restrictions or changes in government. After prohibitions on alcohol consumption in the mid-1980s and tighter restrictions of vodka sales in 2006, mortality rates decreased significantly. However, once the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in 1998, mortality rates rose drastically. “The first event of the free market was cheap vodka and cheap cigarettes.” (Zaridze). Without restrictions Russians do not have any control and actually drink themselves to death. I found this interesting because prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was doing well and mortality rates were low. (more…)

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Harm Reduction

-By Kanisha Hans

In recent years public health has been focused on prevention of disease or high-risk behaviors. However, another more controversial, but very important, practice is harm reduction. Harm reduction is defined by the Harm Reduction Coalition as the set of practices that seek to reduce the negative consequences that result from drug use. Harm reduction strategies are also often used with sex workers. Much of the controversy in harm reduction strategies arises from the fact that they address those in society who are most stigmatized. (more…)

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By Lauren Fisher

According to the Washington Post, “prescription painkillers grease a slippery slope toward a relapse for former heroin addicts.” The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is perhaps one of the most viral news stories of 2014 thus far, and indeed appears to be a case in point. I will be the first to admit that I initially had no remorse for the late actor, known for his former heroin use and found dead with a needle still in his arm. Despite inconclusive toxicology results, I assumed that like many other celebrities, Hoffman simply partied much too hard, leaving disheveled and mourning loved ones behind to deal with the aftermath of his actions.

As investigations ensued, more and more information regarding Hoffman’s incessant drug use surfaced. It was revealed that the actor, 46, had been taking prescription opioids, which include the addictive drugs OxyCotin, Vicoden, and Percocet. Hoffman then again turned to heroin – much cheaper than a pharmaceutical – typically $10 a packet for heroin compared with nearly $80 on the street for an 80-milligram of OxyCotin. These behaviors reflect those of a true addict, and so my initial callousness to the case morphed into sympathy. Though others tend to disagree, I believe addiction is a disease. Those individuals suffering must be provided help – medical, legal, and emotional – in order to live a healthy, normal life. If not tended to adequately, disease often results in death, yet common mental health diseases such as addiction are often stigmatized and overlooked. (more…)

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By Boey Li

I originally came across the New York Times article titled “Heroin’s Small-Town Toll, and a Mother’s Grief.” The article narrated the story of how a mother dealt with her daughter’s death from a heroin overdose. The mother, who originally thought of herself as a victim of her daughter’s addiction, decided to try to get closer to her daughter by visiting all the places her daughter did during her time of addiction. She then learns to sympathize with her daughter and try to help other teenage addicts. This article was an interesting read because it was told like a story and captured the readers’ attention. Furthermore, the article laced in the bigger picture and explained changes in trends of heroin addiction. Yet, this article was more of an introduction to the heroin trend changes, such as the demographics of users and the number of deaths. In order to get a better idea of how these changes came about, I looked up a research paper titled “Intertwined Epidemics: National Demographic Trends in Hospitalizations for Heroin- and Opioid-Related Overdoses, 1993–2009” written by George Jay Unick. (more…)

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