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Drug Addiction and Harm Reduction

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

By Ann Kim, Communications Editor

Graphic by Madeline Lee, Graphics Editor

In states such as West Virginia where the drug addiction rate is one of the highest in the nation, drug use is a common occurrence. There are often people passed out on roads due to overdose and people smoking marijuana in public places. In some cases, local governments have started making policies such as trading used needles for clean ones to prevent severe health issues caused by unsafely injecting drugs into the body.

The effects of drug addiction are widespread, impacting children, friends, and families. Recovering addicts in Serenity Point and Anchor Point — rehabilitation centers in West Virginia — described how drug addiction impacted their lives. They showed that one bad choice can ruin the rest of one’s life. Many of the people in the rehabilitation centers have lost their jobs and families because of their drug addictions.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), West Virginia has the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids. In 2017, there were 833 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in West Virginia — a rate of 49.6 deaths per 100,000 people. This is double the rate in 2010 and three times higher than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 people. The sharpest increase in opioid-involved overdose deaths was seen in cases involving synthetic opioids: from 122 deaths in 2014 to 618 deaths in 2017. Deaths involving heroin also increased significantly in the same 3-year period, rising from 163 to 244 deaths. Prescription opioid-involved deaths decreased by 20% from 383 in 2014 to 304 in 2017.

Although there are many perspectives on how people view drug addiction, researchers view drug addiction as a disease rather than a choice. The American Addiction Centers states, “Every drug, including alcohol, disrupts the reward system in the brain. Unfortunately, long-term usage can cause changes in the reward circuit that influence the brain’s ability to function. Specifically, the areas of the brain that are tied to making decisions, learning, remembering, and controlling behavior are all affected.” Drug addiction erodes self-control, making it extremely difficult for a drug abuser to quit on their own. Drug addiction also follows a similar pattern to other chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes; the patient will go into remission, but may have several relapses before beating the disease entirely.

Drug abuse is harmful to a great range of people beyond just the addict; it is necessary for society to reach out to people in need of help in order to prevent this fatal and devastating “disease” also called drug addiction. Rather than ostracizing those who face struggles against addiction and drug abuse of various forms, government and societies should actively reach out to help these people recover. Addiction hotlines, rehabilitation centers, and more are all available resources that people struggling with addiction should feel are open to them without fear of being criticized. If drug addiction is an issue extending beyond just a single person, then it is about time we all started taking responsibility to help those struggling heal.


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