Heroin overdose death shows need for services

Editorial from the Yamhill Valley News-Register, September 24, 2011

Tragically, Clint Hite died of a heroin overdose this week. With the explosion in use locally of this dangerously addictive drug, more deaths surely will follow. Rather than shake our heads in shock and dismay, we should consider this man’s death a clarion call to action.

More than 100 people gathered on Tuesday evening for a prayer vigil for Hite, who at the time was in a coma at Willamette Valley Medical Center. Imagine what those 100 people could do if they continued to come together to fight drug abuse. Moreover, imagine what we all could do if we joined them.

As we wrote in a May editorial, substance addiction is an ugly disease that’s been around for centuries. It robs users of their health and dignity, and makes it impossible to function in normal relationships. Addicts often resort to crime to support their habits, and many commit acts of person-to-person violence.

Cynthia Joy Hoff knows about committing a crime to feed her own addiction to opiates. She was sentenced to 65 days in jail this week for stealing fentanyl patches from three patients under her care at the Sheridan Care Center. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and usually is administered during end-of-life care. Thoughtful online comments on this story about the merits of incarceration versus treatment are worth review.

It might be easy for some to pass judgment on individuals who find themselves, for one reason or another, addicted to hard drugs or prescription painkillers. If a crime is committed — either to support their habit or in the haze of drug intoxication — certainly some form of consequence is needed, perhaps a combination of jail time, restitution or other penalty.

But without necessary treatment, offenders are bound to repeat their crimes or spiral downward until tragedy strikes again. At what point is society responsible to act in these cases?

In the public realm, taxpayer supported treatment is an option, but money to support such treatment is stretched thin. Still, the importance of maintaining these services is great if we want to help abusers. Private treatment options are expensive but can be effective for those who can afford them.

Most of us are not aware of anyone who is abusing drugs because it’s done in such secrecy that signs are not apparent until it’s almost too late. If we do learn it’s happening, what are our obligations to help? And will it do any good if the user isn’t ready to accept that assistance? When is intervention appropriate?

We do know this: We will never win this war, but we can help with its control. We must educate ourselves on the signs of drug abuse and the ways to fight it. We have to be able to speak up when our friends or family are caught in its trap.

Clint Hite is gone forever. But people like Cynthia Hoff have another chance. We hope for her and her family’s sake, she makes the best of that chance.