I went to my first funeral for a young person who died from a heroin overdose recently. I hope it’s my last.

This young person’s parents are friends of mine, not close friends, but friends. And I keep thinking — Could this senseless death have been prevented? Could a simple conversation have imparted enough information to keep this from happening? I will never know.

Heroin addiction does not discriminate; there really is no stereotypical person who gets addicted to this drug. Heroin is in our inner cities and our affluent suburbs. And the problem is growing.

If I could turn back time, these are the facts I would share with my friend or anyone who has a loved one coming out of rehab for heroin addiction.

  • Your kid is not a bad kid; he is a kid with an addictive disorder. He tried heroin and became addicted. Don’t be ashamed of him or this disease. This can happen to anyone’s child.
  • Heroin is an opiate and opiate addiction is relentless and incredibly hard to kick. (Other opiates include OxyContin and Vicodin.)
  • Why? Because heroin floods the pleasure centers of the brain. Users develop a tolerance and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect.
  • Over time heroin changes the brain; the brain stops making it its own opiates (something our bodies naturally produce and need to survive) and the only way a person can feel better is to keep using.
  • An opiate addict’s brain can take months to years before returning to normal function. A recovering addict may experience fatigue, symptoms of depression, and may continue craving heroin long after stopping the drug.
  • Ninety percent of heroin addicts relapse within the first year. Yes, 90 percent! Of course you want your child to be in the 10 percent — but wishing will not make it so.
  • The highest risk period for a heroin overdose occurs after a period of abstinence; new users are at the greatest risk. The body’s tolerance from the drug is lower and users think they can pick up where they left off.
  • You must have Narcan (injectable Naloxone) when your loved one comes out of treatment. Narcan can immediately reverse an opioid overdose and save a life!
  • Talk to your loved one about Narcan, and make sure it is available to those in his/her circle. It is available from any prescriber in Connecticut. To date, 22 states have passed legislation addressing naloxone access.
  • OxyContin and Vicodin are opioids and just as dangerous as heroin. Get them out of the house.
  • When your loved one comes out of rehab, recovery is not over. Ongoing support is critical: meetings, one-on-one counseling, relapse prevention groups. Take these words to heart and be vigilant.
  • We are not going to fix the heroin epidemic overnight. It is a systemic and pervasive problem, and it is on the rise.

    But we can start having an honest conversation about what can be done to keep one more young person from dying from an overdose. There really is no place for shame and stigma here, too many kids are dying and we need to start talking.

    Lee Bodkin is director of communications of the Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism.

    DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.