As noted in Tammy Wells’ article in today’s paper, the use of heroin is on the rise in Maine.

News stories of arrests for heroin trafficking locally are making the front page more and more.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, or NIDA, 4.2 million, that’s 1.6 percent, of Americans age 12 or older have tried heroin and 23 percent of those who use it become hooked.

The opioid is highly addictive, according NIDA, causing changes in the brain and “uncontrollable drug-seeking no matter the consequences.”

Too often, it not only ruins a life, it takes a life.

In Maine, last year, 210 people lost their lives from overdoses.

This year, a former Mainer, 24-year-old Molly Parks, died April 16 from a heroin overdose, according to her family.

Parks who was living in Manchester, New Hampshire when she died, grew up locally, graduating from Old Orchard Beach High School in 2009.

Unlike most people who lose a loved one to drugs, Parks’ family made the conscious decision be open about her addiction and cause of death in the obituary that was published in this paper on April 20, an obituary that made the news across the country.

The obituary mentioned her struggle “with the heroin epidemic that has been so destructive to individuals and families in her age bracket.”

In an article published April 22, the young woman’s father, Tom Parks of Saco, sat down with Senior Staff Writer Wells to talk candidly about his daughter’s addiction, her trips to rehab that obviously didn’t take and why he decided not to keep her cause of death under wraps.

“If this helps one person, I know Molly’s death isn’t in vain,” he told Wells.

But he also talked about the hurdles that prevented Molly’s struggle to get clean.

Struggles that are not hers alone.

For instance, he talked about rehab clinics that were mostly concerned with money and a previous overdose last year that, after being treated in the hospital, Molly was sent home with no counseling or other help.

It would be easy to blame the victim: she should have had the willpower to quit.

But with the rise in the use of heroin and the accompanying rise in overdoses, blame games aren’t a very useful answer.

The damage of the addiction affects us all. Whether it be from the loss of constructive lives of the addicts, to actual loss of life or crimes such as burglary and/or robbery committed to feed an addiction.

Often the answer is to treat addicts as criminals and lock them up in jail.

However, treatment, that is affective treatment, seems to me to be the most appropriate response.

Some would argue that putting people in jail, when they commit a crime like robbery in order to feed their habit, is what’s needed.

Even some former addicts say being in jail, and unable to get the drug, has helped them.

However, many return to drug use when released.

As noted, NIDA, part of the National Institute of Health, calls heroin “highly addictive.”

NIDA also says part of the rise of heroin use can be blamed on the over prescribing of legal opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. Many who become hooked on those drugs transition to heroin, which is cheaper and more potent, according to NIDA.

Because of the heroin “crisis,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has started a new initiative that was announced in March designed to prevent overdoses. The three-pronged approach is to train health care providers to make better choices when prescribing for chronic pain, boosting the use of naloxone nationally, a drug that can save the life of someone who has stopped breathing because of an overdose, and promoting medication-assisted treatments, like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.

Hopefully, this triple hitter plan and other treatment methods, such as the program at Milestone Foundation in Old Orchard Beach, will be promoted in Maine and the heartbreak suffered by Tom Parks with the loss of his daughter, and others like him, will someday be a much less common occurrence.

— Dina Mendros is a Maine native, having lived in Saco most of her life, and is the associate editor of the Journal Tribune, where she has worked for more than eight years.

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