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Faces of an Epidemic: Stories of the Victims of America’s Opioid Crisis — and the Fight to Save Lives

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  • Faces of an Epidemic: Stories of the Victims of America’s Opioid Crisis — and the Fight to Save Lives



    Jack and Hunt Freeman were Texas brothers with a lot going for them. Hunt, 26, was a charismatic salesman at a Harley Davidson shop; Jack, 29, worked as a golf assistant at an upscale country club.

    But the two also liked to party with alcohol and recreational drugs — first using marijuana and cocaine in high school and, later, moving on to heroin.

    The brothers entered rehab multiple times, but neither could stay clean for long. On Valentine’s Day, Hunt fatally overdosed, sending Jack into a drug-fueled tailspin.

    Three months later he overdosed, too.

    “I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we’ve been through,” their mother, Kim Freeman, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue in a special report on the opioid crisis in America.

    “To lose two children,” Freeman says, “is unimaginable.”

    Heroin and other opioids are claiming lives throughout the U.S. at a staggering rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdoses now kill more Americans than either guns or car accidents: 52,000 in 2015 alone, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

    One person dies of an overdose every 10 minutes.

    The vast majority of those deaths, approximately 80 percent, have taken place in white communities. Experts suggest this is in part because white Americans generally have better access to health care and are more likely to be prescribed narcotics, and research shows that four in five heroin users first abused prescription pills.

    • For more on the opioid crisis in America and the battle to save lives, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

    People become addicted to drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin while being treated for a medical condition and then seek out more pills — or heroin — on the street when their prescription runs out.

    “This problem of addiction truly does start in the medicine cabinet,” Russ Baer, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, tells PEOPLE. “It starts with the misuse and abuse of prescription opioid painkillers.”

    What addiction is not, according to one retired police commander, is “a character flaw.”

    The death rate from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers has more than quadrupled since 1999, prompting thousands of Americans to take action, including Philadelphia librarian Chera Kowalski and Stop the Heroin co-founder Bill Schmincke.

    Kowalski, 33, was raised by parents who faced their own struggles with heroin. After witnessing an overdose on library property, she was trained, along with 25 other staffers, to administer Narcan, a nasal spray used for the emergency treatment of opioid overdoses.

    In the past year she says she has saved six lives — providing six more chances for recovery.

    “Once we can tell the Narcan works, there’s a huge sense of relief,” she says. “It provides me with hope that if they live, they have the opportunity to seek treatment, because long-term recovery is possible.”
    Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid epidemic march in a “Fed Up!” rally on Capitol Hill on Sept. 18, 2016, in Washington, D.C.
    John Moore/Getty

    Schmincke, 52, of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, began the nonprofit Stop the Heroin with his wife, Tammy, after watching son Steven spiral from occasional marijuana use into a severe opioid addiction that landed him in rehab several times.

    “He was a good kid; the drugs just got him,” Schmincke says.

    “We’re about awareness now,” he says of their organization, which helps people transition from rehab to sober living. “We’d like to bring light to people who don’t understand addiction. They think these people out there are junkies and drug addicts, which they’re not. They’re in the grasp of a demon.”
    How and Where to Get Help

    If someone you know is addicted, these groups may be able to assist:

    Kill The Heroin Epidemic Nationwide: 215-857-5151 - This online recovery community helps get men and women suffering from addiction into treatment and raises awareness.

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 800-662-4357: An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it offers referrals to treatment programs around the country.

    Newlyweds, honor students and executives are just a few of the lives lost to overdoses so far in 2017
    Publisher of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers.

    Find a Prescreened Addiction Treatment Center & Drug Rehab Facility

    Visit our Heroin Addiction & Recovery Blog for daily articles.

    I do my best to educate myself regarding addiction and recovery related issue, treatment options, etc. however, I am not a medical professional. All opinions are my own and any advice you take from me is at your own risk and discretion

Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide

We are a community of recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.

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"Behind every addiction there is a family that is suffering. Remembering those who have lost their battle with addiction and those who are still suffering."

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