MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Heroin addiction has been in the spotlight after the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, but heroin is not just a problem among the rich and famous -- it's killing Minnesotans as well. Now, there are new treatment options that doctors are using to deal with heroin addiction.
One Richfield woman told WCCO's Angela Davis about her son, Aaron, who died from a heroin overdose in 2007. Gloria Englund said he got out of a treatment facility on a Tuesday and then died two days later.
Aaron was 33 years old at the time and had struggled with drug addiction for 20 years. After he died, Englund started working as a recovery coach counselling heroin addicts and their families. Her business is called Recovering U.
"I help educate them on how they can help educate their family members and friends, because there is so much stigma -- especially around opiate addiction," she said.
Englund described what she now knows are the signs of heroin use.
"One thing I noticed with my son is that he started wearing long-sleeved shirts, you know, to cover up the track marks from the heroin injections. Loss of appetite, lethargy, sleeping all the time, nodding off in the middle of conversations," Englund said.
Heroin can also be inhaled when it's in a powdered form. Doctors say it is easy to overdose because the purity is high.
Dr. David Frenz specializes in addiction medicine at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul. He works for HealthEast Mental Health and Addiction Care.
"Now, because heroin is so inexpensive, and so pure, you can swallow it, you can snort it, you don't have to shoot it. Now people who wouldn't have ordinarily used drugs are trying drugs," Frenz said.
Frenz says increasingly they are seeing success with medications that help break the addiction.
"So when they are off heroin, they tend to crave the heroin, they tend to have thoughts about using heroin. They seek out the heroin and use it. What the medications do is go up into the brain and prevent craving, drug-seeking and withdrawal," he said.
Englund added this about addicts.
"It's not that they don't love their families, it's just that the addiction has hijacked the brain," she said.
Heroin is highly addictive and Frenz says most of his patients say they were hooked within their first few uses.
Frenz also says the medicines that are available to treat people addicted to heroin are effective, but they have been under-utilized here in Minnesota, in his opinion.
Frenz also remains optimistic about recovery because he has seen so many patients regain their health.
He also described how people often come into contact with heroin the first time. It's often when they are teenagers and they get hold of a family member's prescription pain killers. They enjoy the effects of that, and then start seeking out more. When they can't get more, they find it's easy to buy heroin.
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