it doesn't matter if the addiction came before, during or after homelessness. the fact is that the addiction is there. it effects a larger percentage of the homeless to some degree than any of us like to admit. there are those that experience homelessness and transition out of it in a relatively short period of time. then there are the 650-800 thousand homeless that seem to remain a somewhat constant number. they are the homeless population that are very difficult to reach, very difficult to assist, very difficult to house and very difficult to save. yes, i mean save...as in save their lives. i didn't use drugs as a teen or as a young adult. i didn't fall into drug use during my homelessness. when i was being treated for cancer, i refused to take any sort of opiate pain killer. i relied on 800mg ibuprofen. the doctors attempted to put me on the infamous pain management program numerous times and i refused each time. i did not want to become an addict, slowly but surely. because i had never used opiate based pain killers or used heroin it took me years to understand the real effects it has on people, seen and unseen. it took me years to understand how it transforms people into addicts who rely on the drugs and just how far into the darkness it could take them. i have seen too many people spiral downward faster and farther than they ever would have in homelessness had it not been for the drugs. i have seen too many people die. i have seen too many young men and women degress into addicts who change into people i didn't recognize and no longer knew.
there are an incredible number of americans taking opioid pain relievers every day. they are an invaluable medical tool for relieving pain and have a place in they medical treatment system. but today they are killing more than pain. they are killing our young people. fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone are some of the more common names. for years doctors prescribed these medications to patients for chronic pain, chronic...that seems to be a word that haunts us when it comes to homelessness. and now chronic pain. they placed people in pain management programs and slowly increased the dosages as the patients bodies became immune or adjusted to their current dose. as the patients became addicted to the opioids, they would inflate the pain they reported to their doctor to get a higher dosage or an increased amount in their prescriptions. in 2013, 16,235 people were killed from opioid pharmaceutical overdose. according to nih, the national institutes of health conference, there is no evidence that opioids are effective for long term treatment of chronic pain. opioid therapy is causing grave harm and are killing people. it's turning chronic pain sufferers into addicts.
two or three years ago doctors began moving away from pain management programs. they became more difficult to obtain and more difficult to stay on. the tests and criteria became so stringent that alot of patients were removed from the program. once you are removed, it is very difficult to obtain again. so, like any addict, they turned to whatever they could find to replace the opioids. heroin became the drug of choice due to its relatively cheap price and abundant availability. it is prevelant among the homeless drug users and readily available. when you talk to people who use heroin, many will tell you that they began their addiction by using opioid pain killers prescribed by a doctor. others will tell you they took pain killers they bought from people who had prescriptions. however they obtained them, it originated from opioids. in 2010 the number of prescriptions written for opioid pain killers were 210 million. that number remained steady thru 2014. normally the homeless could not afford to be opioid addicts. but thanks to medicaid they can obtain a months supply for 50 cents. yes....50 cents a month can supply your addiction if you can management it correctly....which most can't. most addicts use their months supply in three or four days and then turn to heroin.
i see this addiction among the homeless often...too often. i also have seen how they became addicted and how they continue their addictions. opioids and the medical system that allowed this to happen has been deadly to the homeless. i believe that is a root cause of many remaining in homelessness. i realize that opioid addiction and it's results are reaching far beyond the homeless into other aspects of life and different groups, including our young people. but in the homeless population it has had a devastating effect. this is one thing i have said over and over when it comes to free housing with no strings...we have to address the addictions that come with the homeless. otherwise we are simply putting a roof over the head of a deadly drug and waiting for it to take its toll.
there are only two ways out of opioid and heroin addiction... you go into recovery or you die. far, far too many are dying. we need an immediate change not only in how and when doctors prescribe opioid pain killers but we also need immediate change as homeless advocates in how we strive to recognize and treat drug addiction. we cannot simply ignore it. if we do , we are co-signing the homeless' death certificate. this is something we need to restructure our policies, aims and goals on. it is a matter of life and death. and far too often...it is death.
see you around town