Has heroin abuse reached epidemic proportions? What about painkiller abuse? Or are we just hearing more about it?
The academic jury is still out on this, as far as I can tell. Of course, it doesn't really matter what you call it if you've lost a loved one to heroin overdose.
What we do know for sure in Rhode Island: accidental overdose deaths are at record highs, killing more Rhode Islanders than any other kind of accident. Enter news of the latest celebrity to succumb to addiction and die by overdose (RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman), and it seems heroin is in the news everywhere you turn.
It's certainly been prominent in the news. Vermont's governor recently devoted his entire state of the state speech to what he called Vermont's "full blown heroin crisis." Now, as my illustrious colleagues in the Green Mountain state have reported, Vermont State Police plan to equip all state troopers with the opiate overdose antidote, naloxone (they're talking about doing the same here in RI):
"Naloxone, better known as Narcan, is at the center of another push by the Vermont Department of Health. Health Department officials launched a program late last year to distribute the drug to addicts and their family members in White River Junction and Burlington with the hope of saving lives in the vital minutes after an overdose. Officials plan to expand the program statewide in the future. The Vermont State Police plan to have all troopers trained and equipped with Naoxone this spring."
So, are people talking about heroin everywhere? It may not be as prominent on our radar screens nationwide as it seems to be here in the Northeast. Check out this Google Trends graphic, which allows you to plug in search terms and specify a timeframe to see the trend in the popularity of search terms over time. People in our region have begun searching much more over the past four years on terms like "heroin" and "overdose."
The question is, does talking about it and hearing about it more move people to action?