How a Reddit forum has become a lifeline to opioid addicts in the US

October 13, 2017

With more than 37,000 subscribers, r/ opiates makes a space for substance users to signal-boost fentanyl warnings and get is supportive of overdoses and detoxing

Reddit is a modern-day canary in the coal mine for the people of Appalachia a region of the United States disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic.

Since the presidential election, a Reddit forum called r/ opiates has transformed into a lifesaving map for junkies navigating a minefield often filled with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid nearly 100 hours more potent than morphine.

In 2017 alone, r/ opiates has featured fentanyl warns for New York, Delaware, Virginia, Massachusetts and North Carolina. These warns, which signal the presence of fentanyl in certain batches of drugs, are making a difference, the moderator spinderalla6 9 said over private message.

100 days in appalachia

I recollect watching comments on other warnings weve posted that people in those areas do see the mentioned stamps, and then avoid them, or they comment that they have had friends overdose on the same stamp, confirming that whatever is in the stamp/ dope is highly potent and dangerous, said spinderalla6 9, who cherishes the pseudo-anonymity woven into Reddits ethos and declined to share her identity.

R/ opiates is not for the swooning of heart. To date, the subreddit has amassed more than 37,000 subscribers representing the entire addiction spectrum habitual users, addicts desperate to get clean, and everything in between.

This past month alone featured a post from one user experimenting with old opium tablets, another poking fun at being dope sick and a brief obituary for a moderator who died 31 May from an overdose probably involving fentanyl.

One person directly affected by r/ opiates was Aaron, 27, of McDowell County, West Virginia. Aaron, who faces legal issues related to drug dealing and abuse, withheld his real name out of fear of arrest.

Aarons descent into addiction began at 13 where reference is abused the pain medication hydrocodone. A few years later, his father was prescribed oxycontin after crushing his back in an accident.

I snuck to his room, violated one up into four pieces and ate one, Aaron said. About five minutes later, I was in pure bliss. Warm waves flooded my body. I decided to take another piece and then I nodded off.

By the time he was 20, Aaron was snorting five to eight 30 mg oxycontins per day. Since then, he has tried nearly every drug imaginable and has unsuccessfully used suboxone and methadone to detox. Today, hes more than 80 days sober thanks to kratom, an herb the Drug Enforcement Agency once considered making a schedule 1 drug( a list that currently includes heroin ).

Around my area, I believe a lot of people use[ opioids] out of boredom. Theres no tasks , no way to have fun besides video games and riding four-wheelers and motorcycles. Theres nowhere else to go except a run-down mall over in another district, Aaron said. The pill epidemic is a lot more expensive at $35 to $50 for an oxycontin 30 mg. A lot of people need two to get through the day, and a lot of people dont want to wake up feeling sick so theyre willing to rob, steal or kill to get their fix. Fissure did leave some people bad off, but not like the pill sickness.

Aaron credits r/ opiates with helping him learn about kratom and giving his life purpose. As a route to pay it forward, hes fentanyl warns in West Virginia.

Peoples pressing a fake 215, and crushing up ginseng pills mixing them with fentanyl and some other stuff and selling as heroin, Aaron, who goes by the handle of Optimistic-angel1 on Reddit, wrote in a 2 February post on the website stimulating note of activity in neighboring Mercer County, which sits only east of McDowell.

While the overdose warnings on Reddit may be a new trend, addicts have been no strangers to information sharing, said Dr Michael Brumage, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston health department in West Virginia. Brumage has heard of addicts setting up networks to share information on bad heroin batches in the past while working with government departments needle exchange program.

While we dont directly test for fentanyl, we are detecting an increase in the amount of fentanyl mixed in with heroin from asking our patients and from reports from law enforcement officials, Brumage said. We are even watching the reporting of fentanyl-laced marijuana, which is a new and dangerous finding.

These fentanyl warns are reaching more opioid users on Reddit than ever before. Since November, r/ opiates has grown in users by 42%. This number reflects a twofold increase in user growth when compared to the same timeframe starting in 2014.

Fentanyls potency has been linked to a surge in overdoses nationwide. Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of opioid-related inpatient stays increased 64% while the rate of opioid-related emergency room visits virtually doubled, according to a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality( AHRQ ). A closer look at counties in and around Appalachia prove this deadly tendency persists.

Montgomery County, in western Ohio, saw more than 400 people succumb from overdoses this year alone while West Virginia has been hit so hard that a state program burial assistance for poor households has nearly run out of fund. In 2015, the country with the highest rate of overdose demises was West Virginia( 41.5 per 100,000 people ), in agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other states from the Appalachian region rounding out the top five were Kentucky( 29.9 per 100,000) and Ohio( 29.9 per 100,000 ).

At the crux of why West Virginia remains an overdose hotbed is the states over-reliance on industries such as coal mining and its high unemployment, Business Insider reported. The nation is also in dire need of improved substance abuse subsistence. West Virginia only had 750 drug rehab beds in 2015 to service a population of 60,000 people who identified as requiring therapy, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. For many of these junkies, r/ opiates has become a life preserver in a worsening storm.

A lifeline was exactly what Dustin Cinnamon, of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, was looking for from r/ opiates last summertime.

A decade-long opioid junkie, Cinnamon was about to turn himself in for a 2013 felony medication possession charge that fell through the fissures. Knowing how lonely his five-month incarcerate stint would be, Cinnamon asked r/ opiates users to mail him letters( he received one ). He also weaned himself off heroin using suboxone in order to mitigate withdrawal symptoms.

Released in March, Cinnamon almost immediately participated in a University of Kentucky analyze on opioids. He earned roughly $5,400 for spending six weeks in the study. Every day, Cinnamon agreed to swallow a placebo or a non-FD-Aapproved pill being implemented in treating chemotherapy-induced nausea. He then had to snort an opioid or placebo and perform certain tasks like pressing a button numerous periods while his vital signs were monitored.

Cinnamon has since moved to New York City and continues to visit r/ opiates. He praised the subreddits integrity and support. Cinnamon said he had always felt comfortable sharing his real identity on Reddit because he hasnt been involved in any major medication dealing-related crimes in a long time. He believes r/ opiates will only continue to grow as the stigma around addiction continues to lift across the country.

For a long time, we were afraid to say anything, voice our opinion about craving, Cinnamon said. We have people dying left and right, we have sons and daughters of senators and congressmen and lobbyists suffering, and I think that what we are seeing is the culmination of these issues being transformed into a dialogue that we are finally admitting that its time to have.

This piece was first published by 100 Day in Appalachia, a collaborative project from West Virginia Universitys Reed College of Media ,West Virginia Public Broadcasting and The Daily Yonder

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