Opiate Epidemic Maps from the late 80's to today

  • By Aaron Mills
  • 22 Sep, 2017

Looking at the explosion of the opiate epidemic and the rise of overdoses in the last few years is even more sobering when we look at those numbers on a map. 

In the late 1980's and the early 1990's the heroin and opiate problem still looks like it's mostly a southern California problem, or something you might see in the grunge rock concerts of Seattle. For most Americans, it's just not a problem that cuts close to home. Areas that are more traditional and conservative have their own drug epidemics, but opiate overdoses are not yet the killer new trend they are today.

By the end of the 90's heroin usage and overdoses had skyrocketed from its earlier levels and claimed the lives of countless youth. This is the generation of Trainspotting, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon and Bradley Nowell of Sublime. Many of us who grew up in this era have our own friends and family who have been lost to the war with opiates. We lived by the mantra that we would prefer to live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse. 

One of my high school friends lost her little sister at the age of 14 to a heroin overdose . I can still remember her tiny innocent smile. She just got in with the wrong boyfriend, in that early adolescent rebellion, and lost her life. I was also friends with her parents, and I remember they seemed so hollow after that, like the best part of their lives was over. They were just the living dead, existing but only in a state of pain and loss. I would see them at a Starbucks, or pass them in a grocery store, but all they could see when our eyes met was the memory of their dead daughter's friend. It was to much to bear. 

This is when I saw the first signs that opiates were becoming an even bigger problem. I remember a programmer friend of mine, who had just landed a huge gig with a dot com startup. Got his own place in San Francisco, was making serious money, yet when we had coffee and talked about our possible future dot com conquests, he offered me a little white pill. I was surprised, and I turned it down, said it wasn't my thing. But to see him using morphine to "take the edge off" and "make you feel warm" seemed a bit extreme to me at the time. 

Later, after the dot com crash, it was in a friend's bathroom that I saw the real problem. She was going to a "pain specialist" who was giving her all kinds of pain meds for illnesses and diseases she didn't really have. At least, I never believed she had any of them. To her credit I am not sure she was an opiate addict, but one day she invited a friend and I over to take some pills from her medicine cabinet. It was OxyContin. Thousands of oxies. If a heroin addict had access to these, they would have been worth a small fortune. 

When I realized how many her doctors were prescribing, and that she was stockpiling, I knew that the pill mills were in full swing.  I could never have known how big the problem was going to get, and how the future of opiates would kill to many more.

Then one day while I was sitting in a Barnes and Noble reading a book, I had my second encounter that told me the pill mills were on the rise. 

A high school acquaintance walked up to me out of the blue. He had a terrible case of the shakes and he started telling me, in a not-so-quiet voice, that his grandmother's pills were no longer available and he just needed to get in touch with a new connection and asked if I knew anyone. 

I didn't want to be a jerk, so I said, "Maybe let me think about it," and walked off. I thought it was disturbing this guy was asking me for a drug connection in the middle of a bookstore, loud enough for everyone in the place to hear it. Meanwhile, I wasn't even someone he knew to have ever used. 

As I was walking out, he grabbed me from behind and pleaded with me. He said he just needed something, some pills, just anything I could get ahold of, and that I had to help him. 

I apologized and left him there in the parking lot. I wonder what I would do today if I had the same experience? Try and get him into treatment? Introduce him to someone in recovery? I don't know. 

Someone surely loved him, and i hope he found help and got himself out of the lifestyle and into recovery

As someone growing up in California, during my teenage years and early 20s, heroin profoundly changed my life. Not because I ever used it. I never did, not once. It changed my life because so many people that shaped my life had been changed by it. So many of my friends were in recovery, and so many of them did find hope for a future. 

This is why the new epidemic is so different. How many of those friends would have lived long enough to find hope or find recovery if the overdose rates were at their current rate of climb?

How many more friends would be buried or in prison if I had been born just a decade later? Where is the Trainspotting generation today? What happened to those old-school, hardcore heroin addicts who lived in trashed houses and did unspeakable things to get their next fix?

They are in the news every day now. The lethality of the heroin on the streets now is staggering, and all those old heroin addicts are dropping left and right. Until you choose to seek a way out, and find hope, if you use heroin you are on a road to death or prison, or both. 
The most striking thing about this graphic is the number of counties where the numbers are suppressed, meaning they are not being counted. As someone who has lost friends as a direct result of heroin, I want you to know something: 

There is hope. Hope is not a buzz word or some cliche that only exists in movies. I have seen what treatment , determination, and an honest determination to change can bring. At Desert Rose we are surrounded by the stories of those who have survived, and we are haunted by the memories of those who have not. 

We are all in a war. It is a war in our homes, in our families, and in our neighborhoods . We are all tied together, and we need each other to survive it intact. At Desert Rose, you can find the tools you need to fight your way out of where you have been. You can do the work to have a life that might not seem possible right now. These people believe your life has meaning, and I believe your life has meaning, even if I have never met you. 

If you are ready to meet real people, and seek the help you, or a loved one needs. Please call (844) 338-5587 today and speak with someone right now. You can call any time, day or night, and we are here to help you. 

This post was written by Aaron Mills.  His views and experiences do not constitute the views or opinions of Desert Rose. He lives with his wife and kids in the rolling hills of Virginia. 

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By Jenny Hunt 22 Jan, 2018
So often I talk about the big blessings of sobriety – great job, great life, great friends, great relationship with my family, and that feeling of inner peace and contentment. Sometimes I forget about the little things. Little things that were so out of my reach in addiction, I didn’t even believe they were possible. So here are some of those things, in no particular order:
By Jodi MacNeal 22 Jan, 2018
By Aaron Mills 20 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 20 Jan, 2018
Two days after the 1986 NBA draft, No. 2 pick Len Bias was dead of cardiac arrest after of a cocaine overdose.

Len Bias: Best player Maryland had ever seen (maybe the best Maryland player ever, depending on how you feel about Juan Dixon). The future of the Celtics. About to sign an endorsement deal with Reebok. Life was perfect.

Cocaine killed that. He was 22.

Bias hadn’t left home to play college ball; he was a home-grown talent who came up just outside D.C. and played ball in Maryland so he wouldn’t have to leave his family. He had a future as wide-open and promising as any kid, ever. Already a star, a freak of athletic power and poise, he might have changed the world of professional basketball. He’d fueled the dreams of a thousand city kids who wanted to play like him, be him. He swaggered, Len Bias did. His opponents couldn’t fathom him: “He’d jump and his knees would be in my teeth.” He dunked on guys, whether he needed to or not, just because he could. Len Bias could fly.

And then cocaine ended him.

Here’s how it went down: Bias and three buddies were snorting coke in a dorm room, suite 1103 in Washington Hall. Bias did a line, tried to get up, fell back on the bad and lapsed into seizure. One guy held his legs. Another one put the handle of a pair of scissors in Bias’s mouth, to keep him from biting his own tongue. The third somehow called 911 and mumbled, over and over, that his friend was in trouble. Kept saying his friend’s name, even when the emergency operator told him it didn’t matter. “This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There’s no way he can die.”

But drugs don’t differentiate. Substance use, abuse and addiction have attacked athletes across the spectrum of sport.

By Emily Johanson 18 Jan, 2018
If a stranger in a gas station parking lot asks this question, it’s easy to assume what’s going on.

“Nope. I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yep, thanks.”

After working a full day, then sitting through a 4-hour class, the last thing I was in the mood for was to be pestered by a drug dealer at 11 p.m. All I wanted was to get my Marlboro Smooths and go home.

As I got into my car, annoyed by the fact that I had to start it with pliers (broken car keys aren’t worth the $200 replacement), something told me to stop.

I reversed, and rolled down my window next to the mysterious black Toyota.

“What are you selling?”

He told me that he had whatever I needed: Weed, percs, Xanax, heroin, flakka, oxies, you name it.

Addiction was too close to home to keep from speaking up.

“Do you realize what you’re doing? Do you realize what you’re selling?”

He was silent for a minute, staring at me. After what felt like eternity looking into this man’s eyes, I decided that I had the freedom to continue. What else do I say? I began to tell some of my story. I served him my heart on a silver platter.

“You don’t have to do this. There are other ways to make money.”

He looked down in shame. I encouraged him to take a few of my Desert Rose company cards in case he knew someone who needed help. He got out of his car, took the cards from my hand and stood there, shaking his head. With tears in his eyes, he said, “They’re for me.”

I sat there with this guy for 45 minutes while he poured out his heart and story.

Gary told me he’s 49 years old, works on classic cars by day, and sells drugs by night for extra money. He has a beautiful son who he loves with all of his heart. When he removed his hat and pulled his shirt collar aside, his bald head and IV port revealed his personal nightmare: Gary was also fighting stage four colon cancer. He made it clear that his cancer was not an excuse for his behavior, or for his personal drug use.

I was caught off guard when Gary squeezed my hands and began to pray. He prayed against forces of the enemy. He prayed for blessing over my life. He prayed protection and favor over his son. For himself, he prayed for wisdom and strength to do the next right thing.

As he walked back to his car, he turned around and said, “It’s time for me to go home and kiss my son good night. Thank you for reminding me of what’s important.”

Every day, we pass people by, like they’re just part of the scenery. We have absolutely no clue what kind of story, beauty, and pain lie beneath the surface.

If you're in pain, please know we understand and we're ready to help. Call us today at (844) 338-5587. 
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 16 Jan, 2018
How do you carry your recovery into the world? Do you pin it on daily, like a badge of honor? Do you bring it out just for special occasions, or do you keep it well and truly hidden?

Last month, a longtime acquaintance told me (in slightly hushed tones) that he’s in recovery. 

I was glad that I didn't hear any traces of shame or guilt in his voice. His long-ago drinking and drug use? It’s just the life he was living at the time. He’s not afraid of being judged, or of any stigma attached to substance abuse and recovery.

It’s just that he’s moved on. He’s private about being in recovery and it’s not particularly relevant to the life he's achieved – husband, father, business owner, artist, athlete. He sponsors people, even quietly mentions that he’s a former addict when he thinks it might help somebody. He probably won’t bring it up with his kids unless they ask him point-blank, once they’re old enough to understand. It’s a crazy-healthy way to be.

For some people, declaring their recovery to the world is a part of staying clean. It gives them a sense of identity and a tribe – their own #MeToo community. They’re vocal, active, engaged. These are the folks going into the prisons, leading the meetings, talking to groups of high school students and their parents. Walking though recovery means talking about recovery. They have no secrets.

Then there are others who’ve closed and locked the door. The subject is not open for discussion, and if you happen to touch upon it, everybody’s going to feel a little uncomfortable for a while. This happened to me not long ago, with a pastor friend. Trying to find a way to refuse a glass of prosecco I offered, he made a joke about being an overachiever in everything – including, at one time, drinking. He made his point in a way that made it clear that was all he was planning to say on the matter. His right, and I respect that.

It seems to me that there are a million ways to navigate long-term recovery. What’s your way?
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