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posted: 4/6/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: The relentless threat of heroin addiction

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  • In a June 2012 photo, a heroin pouch lays next to a sidewalk on Chicago's Homan Avenue. Some states, including Illinois, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. In Cook County, the state's most-populous county, the medical examiner's office says heroin in 2013 accounted for 224 deaths, or 60 percent of the 377 total opiate-linked deaths.

      In a June 2012 photo, a heroin pouch lays next to a sidewalk on Chicago's Homan Avenue. Some states, including Illinois, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. In Cook County, the state's most-populous county, the medical examiner's office says heroin in 2013 accounted for 224 deaths, or 60 percent of the 377 total opiate-linked deaths.
    Associated Press File Photo

 

Not long ago, we came across the true story of a young suburban heroin addict who witnessed a friend die from an overdose on a living room sofa in his house.

Several months later, the same addict was suspected of being the supplier in an episode in which another friend overdosed. In that case, the friend received emergency treatment and thankfully survived.

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A year or two passed and the same suburban addict was arrested after being discovered passed out in a car, heroin openly displayed on the seat next to him.

This, more than any other story we've ever heard, illustrates the power of heroin addiction.

Can you imagine? A friend dies on your sofa and still you keep on using. Can you imagine? You would think that if a tragedy like that isn't enough to shake sense into you, nothing would.

Unfortunately, for so many, nothing does.

Today, we begin publication of an important three-part series reported by The Associated Press, "Heroin Across America." While the report explores new ground, much of it also sounds unfortunately familiar. It's been more than 10 years since our initial "Hidden Scourge" report on the tragic rise of drug use across the suburbs. Since that first special report in 2001, we've followed up with several more initiatives on the topic. It's hard to think of a community problem that's received more of our attention.

If you sense frustration in these words, you sense them rightly. The work of this reporting and the work of those in the community who combat the drug problem has impact; it does help stem the tide, but clearly, it does not eradicate it.

To meet this threat, we all must be as tenacious as it is.

We all must understand that heroin addiction is relentless and the response to it must be relentless too.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman once talked about that. Once an addict, always an addict. Using or recovering, but never cured. The addiction is that relentless. In Hoffman's case, it took only one weak moment to forget. A fatal loss of memory.

The lesson for addicts: Get help. Recovery is tough but possible.

The lesson to recovering addicts: Remain vigilant. Persevere. Resist the temptation to get cocky.

The lesson to the community: Treatment must be relentless. Our resolve must be inexhaustible.

And the lesson for those tempted: Understand how heroin destroys lives, destroys families and friends, destroys futures. Understand how powerful the addiction is. Understand that the easiest way to get off heroin is to never get on it in the first place.

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