Today’s extensive front-page report examining the scourge of heroin — its use, abuse and toll on lives — has been weeks in the making. It could not have come soon enough.
Alicia Yager’s report was in the final stages of editing when we learned that a leading local crusader against heroin, Vicki Allendorf, had lost sons to heroin overdose.
You read that correctly: sons.
Two of Allendorf’s sons, 31-year-old Zachary J. McPoland and 27-year-old Terry T. McPoland, succumbed to their heroin addiction on the very same day.
Few among us have come anywhere close to experiencing such a devastating loss, and for her to suffer it as a single mother — the young men’s father died in 2014 — and after a protracted, courageous life-and-death battle against the insidious grip of addiction, challenges our limits of comprehension.
Friends, family and the community can only express their sympathy and support. No, that’s not correct. There is more that can — and must — be done, and it must involve more segments of society than this community.
Even before the McPoland brothers’ death, many of us were aware — through our reporting here and other sources — of the skyrocketing threat of heroin, particularly in Dubuque County. The double tragedy served to put a “face” on the crisis, and no doubt contributed to attendance and interest in the previously scheduled town hall session in Dubuque conducted Wednesday evening.
If you didn’t attend or watch the event broadcast on THonline.com, we encourage you to watch the archived video of the event on our website. It puts the dangers, the toll and the challenges into focus. As Sgt. Gary Pape, of the Dubuque Drug Task Force, put it, “Heroin is our most tragic drug by far.”
The meeting also made it clear that there is no single, silver-bullet solution. It will require involvement and commitment from many segments of society, including medicine, government, law enforcement, judiciary, treatment centers and the community at large.
If one fact became clear at the town hall, it is this: Dubuque County is fighting this epidemic with one hand tied behind its back. It lacks sufficient resources.
Dubuque County recently came into additional money to ramp up treatment programs, but it needs more. Dubuque County — this region, in fact — lacks space for people needing in-patient attention.
The addictive nature of opioid painkillers puts many patients at risk of becoming drug-dependent, which can lead to addiction to the painkillers and, later, heroin. Many of the tragic stories we’ve heard lately start out with issuance of a prescription for painkillers.
It’s time to re-examine the pressures on doctors and hospitals — especially in a competitive health care marketplace and litigious society — to take a hard look at contemporary thought that patients should, at virtually all costs, have a pain-free medical experience.
That look is underway. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month released guidelines intended to limit prescriptions for opioids. Note, however, that the guidelines are only voluntary.
The heroin epidemic is like an earthquake — striking with little warning and with devastating impact — and Dubuque is an epicenter. If we’ve learned anything the past week, through the double tragedy and the town hall session, it is that this community needs more help to combat it.