Drug abuse is a major problem all across the nation. It’s undeniable and unavoidable. Ohio — especially Butler County — is no exception to this fatal trend. In 2014 alone, the Butler County Coroner’s Office reported 137 deaths by overdose. Seventy-five percent of these deaths were heroin-related.
Over the past several years, Butler County has been proactive in its response to the heroin epidemic. Contributing to this effort, Sojourner has been responding to the needs of the community by opening additional residential facilities and expanding treatment services. We are doing our best to get people out of active substance abuse and into active recovery.
Yet, it is becoming evident that the negative health effects of substance abuse can last long after a person is in recovery. When using drugs, people often share needles, which causes a single needle to enter into multiple people’s bloodstreams and can lead to the spread of transmittable diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV. If an infected person uses a needle, everybody who uses the needle after this person risks also becoming infected. It’s easy to see the danger this poses for those within the community of drug addiction. However, these diseases can also be spread through bodily fluids, meaning transmission can occur through sexual activity with someone who is infected. Meaning an infected woman can pass it on to any children she gives birth to. Meaning even those who have never abused injectable drugs are susceptible to these transmittable diseases.
Focusing on three states bordering Ohio (West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana), USA Today reported on the increased prevalence of transmittable diseases in relation to the increased rate of drug use. It’s no surprise these diseases are becoming more widespread as the heroin epidemic continues. In West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, acute hepatitis B rose 114% between the years of 2009 and 2013, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B is a transmittable liver infection that can eventually result in cirrhosis or liver cancer. Furthermore, in Scott County, Indiana there were 185 cases of HIV in 2015 — the most in Indiana history. HIV is a transmittable, incurable disease that attacks the immune system. If hepatitis B and HIV are becoming prevalent in our neighboring states, there’s no doubt it’s happening here in Ohio too.
It’s clear that action must be taken to prevent the spread of hepatitis and HIV. Unfortunately, it is not always as straightforward as not sharing needles and intimate contact with someone who is infected. In many cases, people who have hepatitis or HIV don’t show symptoms until several years after they have contracted the disease. Thus, a person with hepatitis or HIV may not even be aware they have it. So to avoid contracting transmittable diseases, always act with a “better safe than sorry” state of mind. Several actions should be taken to minimize the spread of transmittable diseases:
- People who are using injectable drugs should always use a clean needle. Although it is not available in Hamilton, many cities (including Cincinnati) offer a needle exchange program, where people can exchange their dirty needles for clean ones.
- Use a condom during any sort of sexual activity.
- Get the hepatitis B vaccination. A one-time vaccination prevents the contraction of the disease.
Although it is possible to minimize the spreading of hepatitis and HIV, there is no cure for those who are already infected. The heroin epidemic has already led these diseases to leave notable, long-lasting impressions on the people of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. Even if the national crisis of drug abuse tapers off, the HIV and hepatitis are going to stick around for the long run. This is something that will affect future generations. The heroin epidemic is not something that is just going to pass through — it is going to leave death, disease, and destruction in its wake.
This is why substance abuse treatment, prevention, and education is critical.