HUNTINGTON – Of the nation’s current heroin users, 80 percent began their opioid addiction using prescription drugs, according to statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
It’s neither secret nor speculation, added Jim Johnson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington, that America’s heroin epidemic began in the medicine cabinet.
In observance of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, residents packed up their unused or outdated pharmaceuticals and dropped them off at several public points across the Tri-State, no questions asked. The drugs, everything from Alka-Seltzer to Oxycontin, were turned over to law enforcement to be incinerated properly: out of the trash, the water supply and, most important, the hands of those who might abuse them.
“The solution to the (addiction) problem is to not get people to start,” Johnson said. “There’s no solution once they get addicted to it. Prevention is the only long-term solution, and this is one way anyone can contribute.”
As Huntington’s heroin problem is front and center in the minds of most locals, Johnson noted it’s a nationwide problem far from limited to the immediate area. SAMHA numbers indicate 1.4 million Americans will begin using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes this year alone, and 200,000 will begin using heroin for the first time.
Drop-off points across Cabell County reported a sharp uptick in participation over the past years, which Johnson said may be attributed to the increased visibility of the power of prescription drugs in the wake of the heroin epidemic.
The West Virginia State Police Huntington Detachment filled more than six 40-gallon trash bags of medicine, a sharp jump from the 2 1/2 bags collected during the spring drop-off. Even at out-of-the-way spots like the Cabell County Sheriff’s Field Office in Ona, around 15 drops were reported throughout the day.
Troopers and deputies both said the majority of drops were made either by elderly residents or by families of the recently deceased. Johnson said younger addicts often begin their opioid addiction by abusing the medication of their parents or grandparents.
About 50,000 Americans die of overdoses each year, according to SAMHA.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.