by David "Alligator" Williams
 OPINION COLUMN: Cyclone Heroin Ripping Huntington

Heroin has pounded Huntington like a cyclone and it's waves and ripples have had a disastrous impact on our city. Huntington is on pace to [exceed projections and ] record  around  100 heroin overdose deaths in 2015 alone. These are deaths inside of city limits and does not take in account the deaths in Proctorville, Ashland, Ironton, or surrounding communities where the storm has touched down.

There could also be close to 1,000 overdoses that will not or have not resulted in death.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy projects 856 overdose reports called in to Cabell 911 during 2015.

On the surface, the damage is obvious. Any senseless loss of human life is a tragedy that directly impacts family and friends. Many family members never recover from the psychological trauma of losing a love one to drugs.

 

The overdoses that do not result in death still cost Huntington millions of dollars a year. First, there is the obvious cost of police time investigating and the use of emergency vehicles and paramedics. Then, many overdose victims do not have insurance but require lengthy hospital stays or time on expensive ICU floors.

Cyclone Heroin produces many waves or ripples that expand and cause damage and economic loss:

A) The costs of babies born addicted to drugs. These babies require much medical attention to overcome the effects of being born addicted to heroin.

B) The use of and exchanging of needles has resulted in an outbreak of Hepatitis C and HIV in the area. One also must factor in the sexual diseases that are transmitted as prostitutes raise money to buy drugs.

C) The cost of treating addiction can be as much as $1800 a day. While Huntington is witnessing the birth of a new industry in the area - who ultimately pays for an addict to be treated? Some newer facilities such as The Healing Place - are not as expensive as River Park Hospital or other hospitals - but the cost can be expensive over a period of time. While many agree that we should try to treat addicts that commit crimes instead of punish them, the question must be: Who pays for expensive and lengthy addiction treatment? Many addicts do not have insurance and cannot pay for treatment, so if we treat them, who gets the bill? (Editor's Note: Official estimates have been in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.)

D) While these addicts are away at rehab, ( if they do have jobs), the companies they are employed by often have to pay other employees overtime.

E) Addicts often resort to property crimes like breaking into cars and/ or houses. The damage done from breaking windows to stolen  property is staggering. Also, add  the expenditure of police resources and the extra money residents are paying for security  and the costs  become much higher.

F) Courts are tied up because of all of the drug arrests and property crimes. Not only does this impact court costs but also holds up our legal process.

G) The overcrowding of jails and prisons due to the heroin epidemic have also become a major problem in the city and state. It is expensive to house the many criminals that have been locked up due to Cyclone Heroin and even more expensive would be building more jails and prisons which is becoming necessary due to the epidemic. Look at the number of out of town residents - mainly Detroit, Michigan residents - the state is now supporting and feeding in our prisons and jails. One would think that Michigan should write West Virginia a huge check for taking care of its' people.

H) Another sad effect and cost is the need for foster families and shelters for children who have had their parents overdose or imprisoned. Many addicts are unfit parents and their children become wards of the state. Not only does this do serious psychological damage to children  taken away from unfit addicted parents. Some  lose their homes when their parents are imprisoned.  The state then picks up much of the cost of raising the children.

I) Prevention and treatment agencies have become a necessity in order to  get addicts help or educate school children about the dangers of drugs. These agencies, while they are very useful, need to be funded. The City of Huntington has added some excellent programs to treat addiction but there are expenses involved that someone must pay  and support.

Cyclone Heroin has destroyed many lives in our city. Even though we may not have to directly pay for the damage it causes, ultimately we do through taxes or a raise in insurance costs. In a satiric way, one can say Cyclone Heroin appears to have boosted the economy through creation of security and healthcare industries , but ultimately those ripples trickle back to us and are jobs that the taxpayers pay.

Meanwhile, at least four overdose deaths have been recorded in Huntington this past week alone. The damage and death caused by heroin over the last few years is definitely on par with damage recorded by a cyclone. The only other events that has caused as much death and destruction as heroin is war. Can one  argue that Huntington is at war with drugs?