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The horrors of heroin addiction

In this photo taken on Feb 11, 2013, freshly dumped hypodermic syringes and a needle litter the ground in Myanmar. Heroin addiction is a growing problem in the U.S. One family's story might help others prevent and deal with the problem as well as helping
In this photo taken on Feb 11, 2013, freshly dumped hypodermic syringes and a needle litter the ground in Myanmar. Heroin addiction is a growing problem in the U.S. One family's story might help others prevent and deal with the problem as well as helping others become more aware.
Gemunu Amarasinghe, Associated Press

Taylor was only 21 when he died from a heroin overdose. He was far too young to die — a quiet, kind, bright and ambitious youth who worked in computer support since age 15.

He began smoking marijuana in high school and swore he would never take hard drugs because they “steal your soul.” However, heroin comes in different forms. It can be added to pot, which is how he was first exposed to the drug. Addiction followed, although he battled it, hating the way it dominated and damaged his life.

He moved back home for help and longed to be drug free. He made progress in treatment, and then relapsed. On the day of his death, his mother came home and saw his work shoes — still by the door. She immediately feared the worst and hurried to his room where her fears were confirmed.

It sometimes takes the death of a public figure like actor and director Philip Seymour Hoffman to briefly capture our attention about the horrors and prevalence of drug addiction. Unfortunately, such stories have a short shelf life and our interest lags. This should not be so because heroin addiction is a growing problem.

In 2011, 4.2 million individuals over age 12 admitted to using heroin at least once in their life, according to drugabuse.gov. In Utah where a large percentage of people identify with the LDS Church that discourages any use of alcohol or drugs, there is an enormous problem with heroin addiction.

Heroin is in the opiate family and a cheaper, easier-to-obtain alternative to OxyContin, Vicodin and other commonly abused prescription painkillers, according to rehabhotline.org. Utah ranks eighth in the United States for prescription drug overdose deaths and 71 percent are from prescription opiates, according to information on rehabhotline.org.

The police officer who interviewed Taylor’s parents explained to them, “We see this far too often.”

Taylor’s mother wants to raise awareness about this epidemic and encourage open dialogue on an under-discussed problem. Since Taylor’s death, she has learned of others who find themselves in this same, raw, isolated place in their lives.

We live in a time when there are few prohibitions on the topics we discuss, yet often silence prevails on the nightmare of drug addiction. For far too long, contemporary media — music, TV, movies, books — has contributed to the problem. Media often dishonestly and disingenuously portray alcohol and drug use as a choice with few consequences. Their use is glamorized, portrayed as fun, as the “cool” thing to do, and in many settings as acceptable behavior. In reality, addiction is causing havoc in individual lives, in homes and in communities around the globe.

We desperately need open, honest dialogue in societies, social groups, religious organizations, schools, homes and families about the negative effects of drugs and alcohol. School programs are not enough. The problem requires consistent, ongoing dialogue in a wide variety of settings. Only the most foolish would suppose they will never be affected by this burgeoning epidemic.

Taylor’s mother shared the following insights:

Heroin is highly addictive, causing physical and psychological dependence that requires an increased dose for the same "high," and there are severe withdrawal symptoms when stopped. Addicts often use the drug to relieve withdrawal symptoms rather than to get high.

Today’s heroin users defy stereotypes. There is no such thing as a typical heroin user.

Heroin is cheap and readily accessible, often preferred over more costly drugs.

Street heroin varies in purity, increasing the potential for fatal results.

Heroin is not only injected. It can be smoked or snorted, eliminating the fear of needle use and stigma of needle marks.

When Taylor’s parents became aware of his addiction, they did not know how to address the problem, where to turn for help or what to do. They heard about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Addiction Recovery Program and searched it out. Other resources were not readily accessible and required much research.

Some parents feel embarrassed, fearful, ashamed and often paralyzed by a loved one’s addiction. They do not have the money to pay for costly treatment, rehab facilities or counseling. They agonize and wonder ifwhether involving the police or a trip to the emergency room will help or worsen the problem. They often don’t seek advice or tell family and friends for fear the user or parent will be judged or condemned. Caregivers in the home have to decide what to share and how to protect others in the family. Physical and emotional stress, sleeplessness, chronic worry, fear, depression, exhaustion, loss of trust, tensions boiling over — all are potential effects when dealing with addiction.

Is there any one way, a right way, to address the problem? No. Yet there are some things to prayerfully consider:

Do seek advice and help. Go online and find government, community, church resources and use them.

Do talk to trusted, knowledgeable professionals, friends and ecclesiastical leaders. Far more people than you imagine are also dealing with this problem.

Seek out support networks for you and family members.

Never give up.

Show love and support for the user yet set appropriate boundaries.

Be prayerful. Long before the problems develop, learn to recognize the whisperings of the Spirit. Then, when inspiration comes, act on it.

Perhaps, as members of a large, well-organized church, which does an excellent job of rapidly responding to calamities, we can be collectively and individually more proactive about this problem in our congregations. We can alert women and mothers in Relief Society classes, organize lessons for young women and young men, present firesides, provide information on available resources and teach family home evenings, where appropriate, that discuss the realities and horrors of drug and alcohol addiction.

Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World." She teaches part-time at BYU. Her views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.

Email: kfrederickson@desnews.com