June 3, 2023

Opiate Epidemic

The Opioid epidemic was given a spotlight on Sept 24 at Northampton Community College’s David A. Reed Community room, awareness becoming a necessity due to 300 people losing their lives to either heroin or prescription pain killers locally per year.

Founder of Embrace Health, Staci Mulcahy, gave a presentation chockfull of alarming facts on the issue, while providing logical explanations of usage, addiction, and effects.

“The great majority of people who are using prescription pain killers or heroin are Caucasian,” said Mulcahy. This is a severe statistical change over the past 10 years. She also noted that 33% of users exhibiting a mental health condition are addicted as well.

Mulcahy has been treating patients with addictions since 1998.

Why do people become so addicted? Mulcahy explains that the area of the brain dealing with emotions and cravings—amygdala and hippocampus—are highly effected after exposure to opium, causing physical and emotional changes. Because users easily become dependent, since opiate drugs increase levels of dopamine.

Mulcahy describes these harmful effects as, “the loss of ability to be rational and logical with the choices they make.”

Under the influence, a person will become loopy, drowsy, display slurred speech, reduced appetite, and dilated pupils. Mood changes will be present, causing anxiety and depression. Also, once the addict is trapped in a vicious cycle of relapsing, any negative incidence, such as a break up or loss of family member, exploits that region in the brain.

The growing epidemic stems from doctors over prescribing prescription pain killers to people with acute and chronic pain. Consequently, 55% of users get opiates from their medicine cabinets at home via legal prescription.

Ages 17-26 are the highest concentration of people abusing opioids. “Pill parties” are again a trend in high schools, as teenagers swallow a random assortment of pills from a bowl, pills they either find at home or buy from a “street” dealer.

The seminar also embraced Jack Grossman, a local resident, who had a profound testimony of his battles with addiction.

His journey began by becoming hooked on Percocet. “Within 3 days I was an everyday user,” Grossman said.

After rehab, he learned about the cheapness of heroin and where to get it. In the ensuing weeks and months Grossman said he found himself on the streets of Camden or North Philadelphia every day looking to get high. During his third overdose, Grossman was found blue and near death. He knew he had to turn his life around.

Overall, he’s had 11 stints in rehab and has been clean ever since May 23rd, 2014. He is now a pre-med student at Muhlenberg College and works as an emergency technician dealing with overdose patients.

“I go to a funeral or I find out someone I know died every single week…no exaggeration,” Grossman confided to the seminar’s audience.

He also gave advice on how to approach someone you know who you suspect is using: Let them know you are there for them if they ever need to talk. Not by saying, “Hey, I know you’re getting high,” as that method is rendered ineffective to someone concealing their addiction.


All Photo’s Courtesy Stephanie Giannakis

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