The name itself strikes terror into the heart these days. But originally it was named by the Bayer people from the word heroine. Or female hero. Why? Because it was so effective in relieving pain and suffering. If it were legal it would still be one of the most effective pain relievers in the doctor's arsenal. It was also considered such a safe and effective medicine that it was available over the counter until 1914.
The story these days with heroin is different. It not only is not available over the counter, its not available anywhere in America legally.
So where does this leave us today? We have black markets and addicts. Black markets of course require police and addicts require treatment.
An interesting study by Dr. Lonny Shavelson looks into the world of the addicts and their treatment. What do we know? What works? How can addicts be helped?
First we start out with an unusual point of view. Most addicts are in pain. This is quite surprising. It surprised me. I thought they were just in it for the euphoria.
Here is what Dr. Shavelson found in his study of 200 addicts:
a high proportion of severely abused children (beatings, rapes, rapes of siblings). He questioned his study methodology. He thought there must have been a flaw in how his sample was selected or in how the questions he asked were framed.
Then while he was doing his research, an article came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association that said that the addiction rate goes up for male sexually abused children. And it doesn't just double or triple. It is 25 to 50 times higher than the rest of the population. Approximately 70% of the women in drug rehab experienced sexual abuse before they started on drugs. In other words, those heroine addicts not in actual physical pain are suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
What is the preferred treatment in America today for these hurt and humiliated souls? We don't deal with the pain that made them liable for drug abuse. We ask that before they can be healed that they heal themselves by giving up drugs. And then we wonder why rehab for hard-core addicts does not work too well. But how could it when the treatment does not match the disease.
So the next time the TV expose shows the junkie with the spike in his or her vein think of what torment that person must be in internally in order to put them in the place they are in. And all too often our response to those suffering is to jail them. Barbaric. Or treatment that deals with symptoms and not causes. Stupid.
Dr. Shavelson has written a book called "Hooked" about his experiences with addicts. A recent transcript of an interview by NPR with the doctor is available here.
M. L. Simon is an industrial controls designer and free market political activist