By Steph Mostaccio
The use of illegal drugs is on the rise, and America is the leader in this trend.
Americans, who comprise only 4 percent of the world’s population, consume two-thirds of illegal drugs, according to Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
Califano notes in his book, HIGH SOCIETY: How Substance Abuse Ravages America and What to Do About It, that the number of illegal drug users rose from 12 million in 1992 to 20 million in 2005, and that the number of teen illegal drug users more than doubled in those same years.
Heroin is among the drugs that have become more prevalent, especially among teenagers and young adults. According to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people between 18 and 25 years old who have used heroin in their lifetime increased from 496,000 in 2005 to 511,000 in 2006. A CASA study released in May also found the overall use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, among full-time college students doubled to 8.2 percent.
The appearance of heroin use on a college campus, does not surprise Mark Fisher, Rider’s substance abuse prevention specialist.
“You can get it anywhere,” he said.” “… If you’re looking for it, you’re going to find it.”
Westminster Choir College freshman Justin Warfield died last Wednesday after allegedly using heroin. According to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office, 19-year-old Kieran Hunt, who was arrested in connection with Warfield’s death, obtained the heroin from Newark.
However, according to Lt. Bill Straniero, of the Special Investigations Unit at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, the majority of young heroin users are obtaining the drug from Trenton.
“Trenton is basically a source city for the suburbs in Mercer County,” he said. “In most of the other municipalities, the kids who are using heroin are going into Trenton to get it.”
Straniero has also noticed an increase in heroin use in Mercer County in the last five years. He attributed this increase to the drug’s manufacturing process, noting that the drug is much more refined and pure today, which means that the intravenous method is not the only way to inject it.
“As the purity levels have risen, you no longer have to stick a needle in your arm,” said Straniero. “You can sniff it or snort it now, which has made it much easier for people to accept.”
Heroin, an opiate that comes from the poppy plant, is highly addictive. In Straniero’s 23 years experience at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, he said he can count on one hand the number of people who have successfully “kicked the habit” of heroin use.
“Heroin is the devil,” he said. “Once it gets you, you’re done. You’ve basically sold your soul.”
Opiates, like heroin, affect the human body’s natural production of endorphins, which are chemicals that act like natural painkillers and keep the body in balance. According to Fisher, the body stops producing endorphins when opiates are used, which leads to the addiction.
“You have to keep supplying [the endorphins] artificially,” he said. “That’s where a physical addiction comes in.”
Fisher pointed out that the addiction process affects everyone differently. One individual using heroin for the first time might become addicted, while someone else can use heroin multiple times and still not become addicted. However, Dr. Stephanie Golski of the Psychology Department said that it is rare to become addicted the first time one’s brain is exposed to a drug.
“Scientifically, there is not evidence that the process of addiction happens with one use,” she said.
According to the Rider Initiative for Substance-abuse Education (RISE), heroin use has several affects on the body. Short-term affects include: a feeling of relaxation, dry mouth, heavy feeling in the arms and legs, and going “on the nod,” which means alternating between wakeful and drowsy states.
Long-term effects include: fatal overdose, collapsed veins and an increased risk for infectious diseases when the drug is injected with a needle.
Stranario said he does not think that the problem of heroin use will ever be completely gone. However, he added that educating kids at an early age about the dangers of the different drugs could reduce the use.
“I think that education should continue even in college just to make kids aware as to how dangerous it is and how addictive it is,” he said.
Fisher agreed that education is key. He said students need to learn why they should not use drugs instead of just learning to say no. He added it is important to clear up some of the misperceptions about substance abuse. In order to do so, he plans to start a social norms campaign this semester, which would educate people that not everyone parties or does drugs.
“You know that if you talk to a lot of people that everyone parties,” he said. “That’s the perception, but it’s not the fact, so we want to get more facts out there.”