Wednesday, September 24, 2014
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Is there a drug epidemic in Lincoln?

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[September 24, 2014]  LINCOLN - Is there a drug epidemic in Lincoln?

Lincoln Police Chief Ken Greenslate says, “No.”

Is there a drug problem?

The Chief says, “Yes, there is.”

According to Greenslate, there are rising problems with the use of heroin in the community. His police force is well aware of it, and officers are working daily to build solid cases that will result in solid convictions.

In the last two years, the city has seen a rise in the use of heroin, due in part to the fact that it is a readily available drug that serves as an accessible and affordable substitute for another dependency.

There has also been an increase in heroin-related deaths. In 2010, there was one overdose death, in 2011 there was one. In 2012, there were four reported heroin overdoses with two resulting in death. In 2013, there were five reported overdoses with no deaths resulting. To date, in 2014 there have been four reported overdoses and one death.

There have also been arrests made in connection with heroin use. In 2010 and 2011 there were no arrests made, but in 2012, there were three, and in 2013, there were ten heroin-related arrests made in Lincoln. To date in 2014 there have been two arrests made, but Greenslate said there are cases being built, and more arrests will be made in the future.

So, is there a specific cause for the rise in drug-related deaths? Greenslate said there are a number of factors involved, but one cause comes from the body’s growing dependency on the drug. He explained that heroin in its purest form is cut with other ingredients to weaken it. The pure form would be lethal, so the “cutting” is necessary. Any number of ingredients can be used to dilute the pure drug. Most often the dilutant will be talc, flour, or powdered sugar. Dealers will use just about anything at their disposal that is of a similar consistency to the pure heroin, including certain rat poisons.

As an addict, one is not sure when they purchase a product how potent it may be. Consequently, there are times when one “take” doesn’t do the trick, and another is required. In addition, Greenslate explained that as a user progresses in his or her habit, the human body builds up a resistance to the drug, a natural defense to the drugs affects. Therefore, it takes more and more each time in order to reach that desired "feel good” feeling.

Then comes the day that the user has no access to his or her drug. Greenslate said at times this can be by choice, someone trying to “get clean” on their own. Other times it may be that they don’t have the cash for, or immediate access to the drug. Either way the consequences are severe illness. The illness wears on a person’s resolve to quit, and in many cases within a day or two they are looking for a “fix” to solve their problems.

However, what is also going on at the same time, is the body’s natural defenses that created the original resistance are waning. The body no longer has the ammunition to fight the effects of the drug. When the user finally makes a purchase, they start by consuming the same amount they were consuming previously, thinking they will need that much to get high. Because they have taken that same amount in the past, they don’t stop to think that it could be fatal, when in fact it often is.

So how does the cycle of addiction get started? Greenslate said there are multiple ways that one ends up addicted to an illegal narcotic.

He recounted how the chain of drug abuse gets started in some cases, but not always. He was careful to say that he was not making a blanket accusation, but was offering information based on facts about one possible scenario.

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In many cases, illegal drug abuse is the result of a dependency on prescription drugs. Greenslate said heroin, which is a derivative of poppy, shares its base narcotic with other prescription drugs such as oxycotin. In some cases, those who are dependent on a prescription drug such as oxycotin, reach a point where they can no longer get the prescription. Because oxycotin is addictive, and withdrawal symptoms include violent or severe illness, those who “need” the drug, will then turn to an illegal product such as heroin to offer an accessible and affordable substitute.

Greenslate said the reason heroin abuse is growing now is because of a more careful monitoring system in the medical and pharmaceutical fields.

People see their prescription drug dependency as acceptable because the doctor prescribed the drug. But what happens is the longer they take the drug, the more they need in order to feel good. This results in a variety of actions by the addict. "“They go to the doctor and say, "Oh I dropped my pills down the sink, can I get more?" and they get a new prescription. Or they go to multiple doctors and get multiple prescriptions.”"

Greenslate said that what has happened in recent years is that the state has developed a monitoring system that alerts doctors and pharmacies that one person is getting multiple prescriptions for one drug. The result then is the addict is shut off from his or her legal supply, and that leads to seeking out an illegal alternative.

Geographically, Lincoln is a hub city, which increases access to drugs. Sitting between Chicago and St. Louis on the Interstate and a thirty-minute drive to larger communities such as Springfield, Decatur, and Bloomington, those seeking drugs seem to have unlimited resources.

The problem grows when the one person seeking out the drugs, also has to seek out a means of paying for the drugs. When one person needs money to pay for the drugs, the best way to get it may be to sell the same narcotic to others. It becomes a pyramid of sorts Greenslate said, where that one will buy more than he or she needs and sell part of it to others in order to raise money for his or her next dose.

And, there is also a marketing strategy involved. Greenslate said, “If you want to sell something, what is your best marketing tool? Free samples.” The original addict will give drugs to one or more persons, encourage them to start “using” and then sell them the drugs when they have become addicted. Free sampling is one way that youngsters get hooked because they are "easy sells."

Because of this, Greenslate said drug abuse is not limited to any one age group or any one economic class. Greenslate said he wanted to emphasize that not every person who needs a prescribed medication is going to become an addict; this is just one scenario of how it can come to a community.

So the next question becomes; how does one stop the cycle? For the city department, there are a number of tools in their toolbox that are effectively helping them combat the local war on drugs.

In segment two, Greenslate will talk about these tools, and the success of the department in not only catching criminals, but also in raising awareness and teaching prevention.


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