Opioid epidemic affects all of us

It is perplexing that some citizens continue to have so little compassion for victims of the heroin and opioid epidemic. It is not unusual to hear of addicts being dismissed as dregs of society and of the drug crisis as “not my problem.”

It is a problem for all of us.

The epidemic’s widespread impact was hammered home recently when a Cleveland police officer was hospitalized after being exposed to fentanyl while executing a warrant. He is not the first. An East Liverpool, Ohio, officer nearly died after coming into contact with fentanyl in May. Four doses of Narcan were used to save him. Three drug-sniffing dogs in Florida overdosed last year during a drug sweep. A 10-year-old Florida boy died on June 23 from a toxic mixture of heroin and fentanyl.

The sad and scary stories go on and on and on.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times stronger than heroin, and a grain of it can be fatal. When it becomes airborne, it can be unknowingly ingested by officers, their dogs, even nearby children. The opioid epidemic, and fentanyl, specifically, has become a crusade for Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio). In February, he co-authored the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention Act, which is intended to increase scrutiny of overseas packages being delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. Fentanyl and the even stronger carfentanil are often shipped from unregulated pharmacies in Mexico, China, and India.

Besides the drugs on the street, hypodermic needles are washing up on beaches and being found on hiking trails and playgrounds across the nation. San Francisco collected more than 13,000 discarded syringes in March. According to the Associated Press, a 6-year-old California girl put a syringe in her mouth, thinking it was a thermometer.

The scourge’s tentacles are reaching into all aspects of society. Small towns are being bankrupted because of rescue and Narcan expenses. Businesses are losing young workers who overdose, and addicted workers are not being productive. The human toll is ghastly, with the New York Times estimating that there were more than 59,000 overdose deaths across the nation in 2016. Children are being orphaned. Families are being decimated emotionally.

Addiction, in many cases, is no more an addict’s fault than a dying patient can be blamed for his cancer. Opioid addiction can begin with a trip to the dentist to have wisdom teeth pulled or with a painkiller given to a high school athlete with a knee injury. For some people, that initial dose can flip a switch that can seemingly never be turned off. It is a disease. The epidemic ravaging communities impacts much more than just the addict. It affects all of us.

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The Toledo Blade

This column was originally published on July 24.