Champaign no exception from national drug crisis

Anna Watson

Staff Writer

In Champaign County, the effects of what is being called a national drug epidemic can be felt, with substances including marijuana and illegal or non-prescribed opioids being found with increasing regularity in the community.

Ben Boltinghouse, an officer with Parkland’s Public Safety, says cannabis, or marijuana, is the drug most-encountered on Parkland’s campus, however they still encounter what are considered harder drugs.

“It is typical for most college campuses, and Parkland isn’t really an exception, that recreational cannabis is the most common thing,” Boltinghouse said.

Illinois has taken many steps to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis, though, according to Boltinghouse. 

He also says Parkland officers are more likely to find students intoxicated or possessing illegal substances during night classes, though it’s is not only exclusive to nighttime courses.

Inspector Kaitlin Washburn of the East Central Illinois Special Unit Drug Task Force works with drug addicts to investigate information on local drugs. She specializes in Tuscola and Mattoon.

She says the most prevalent drug she sees people using is methamphetamine—and she says there is a reason for that.

“The average person who has Google can make meth,” Washburn says. “We often deal with what is called crystal or ice meth which comes from Mexico.”

Washburn says meth costs roughly $125 a gram, while heroin, another drug she encounters, is a bit more expensive.

Washburn says anytime they interview a local person using heroin, an opioid derived from morphine, it is most likely coming from Champaign or Chicago.

Both methamphetamine and heroin have a high liability for addiction and very little to no medicinal purpose. Importation into the United States of either drug is illegal. In the state of Illinois, possession of meth or heroin is most always a felony charge.

In the case of meth, it is extremely sparingly prescribed as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder under the trade name Desoxyn, but the availability of safer drugs with similar or greater effectiveness has seen the substance relegated almost solely to use as a recreational drug.

Both the American and Canadian governments hold that heroin has no recognized, safe medical use.

Last year, the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office was involved in responding to nine heroin overdoses, according to a News-Gazette report, three of which included deaths. Comparatively, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015 there were more than 22,000 deaths from opioid overdoses nationally, or about 62 deaths per day.

The federal National Institute on Drug Abuse says the 18–25 age group has shown the highest increase in abuse of heroin.

Heroin’s pure form is a white powder which can be injected, snorted, or smoked. The American Addiction Center’s website notes that heroin is rarely pure, however, as drug dealers will often cut the drug with other ingredients in order to sell more of the substance.

Heroin can appear as a murky, brown powder when diluted with the cutting agents such as baking soda, caffeine, starch, laundry detergent, crushed over-the-counter pain medications, sugar or rat poison. Many of the aforementioned agents can mask the signs of an overdose to the user.

Methamphetamine’s appearance is similar to heroin’s, in that it is often seen as powder with a white or brownish color.

Heroin’s euphoria is similar to that of pain narcotics, with users claiming to feel a rush of warm happiness and relaxation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said three out of four heroin users reported they started using heroin because they were addicted to prescription painkillers such as oxycodone—also known under its trade name OxyContin—hydrocodone, and codeine.

The CDC says the overprescribing of legal opioids sparked the increase of addiction and overdoses, because addicts on painkillers move to cheaper and more easily attainable drugs such as heroin.

One of the strongest opiate drugs on the market is known as fentanyl. It is 50–100-times more potent than morphine and the easiest substance to overdose on, according to the CDC. Fentanyl sees use in a hospital setting by injection because of its efficiency in combating pain.

However, fentanyl applied to heroin or cocaine to make the drugs more potent and stronger can be dangerous. The CDC reports roughly 9,500 people died from fentanyl overdoses in 2015.

Many people die on heroin because they stop breathing. The euphoria of heroin makes a person feel sleepy and extremely relaxed—in addition to inferring with the user’s automatic breathing cycle—and as a result they often fall asleep and hypoxia sets in. Hypoxia is a condition where there is not enough oxygen reaching the brain. This condition can result in permanent brain damage, a comatose state, or even death.

Addicts who regularly use heroin develop a high tolerance for the drug, thus needing more of it to feel the same high.

In many cases, though, the cause of an overdose in unknown. The CDC says that for “approximately 1 in 5 drug overdose deaths, no specific drug is listed on the death certificate.” Multiple drugs may be present in an addict’s body making it hard to classify whether the death was heroin- or opioid prescription-related.

People with a substance use disorder who undergo withdrawal can face severe withdrawal symptoms such as: vomiting, sleep problems, cold flashes and goosebumps, severe substance cravings, and uncontrollable leg movements.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) offers opioid treatment programs which combine behavioral therapy and medications to treat addiction and withdrawal.

The CDC reports one of the many methods to curbing the heroin overdose epidemic is to counter the effects of opioids by having first responders administer life-saving drugs such as Narcan—otherwise known as naloxone—is a nasal mist that temporarily reverses the effects of opioids.

The News-Gazette reports Champaign Sheriff deputies plan to carry such a substance with them when responding to overdose calls. The sheriff office’s Captain Shane Cook explains police authorities many times arrive at the scene of a person overdosing before the paramedics, and therefore he finds it beneficial to have the substance accessible to police. Deputies will be trained in administering the substance.

Parkland Counselor Dennis Cockrum says the Counseling and Advising Center at Parkland does not offer individual services through the institution for students with substance addiction issues, but they do offer referrals to agencies and services which can help with addiction.