Heroin: Nobody wants to say it, hear it, or think about it. Unlike alcohol abuse, which — though it kills about 88,000 people a year in the U.S. and is the third leading cause of preventable death — has come out of the shadows to the point that discussing it is not only acceptable, but almost passé, heroin instills such fear and dread, the stigma is virtually burned into our collective psyche. And it’s partially that stigma, and the inherent shame associated with abuse, that keeps many families from educating themselves and reaching out to get the help they need.
“It’s underground,” says Elaine Trumpetto, executive director of the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education (CAPE) in Dutchess County. “There’s a level of shame and blame and guilt for the families that go through this. Our society doesn’t quite recognize addiction as a disease and people who suffer from it keep it in the closet.”
CAPE’s forums draw anywhere from 50 to 600 people. But when U.S. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney held a telephone town hall on the heroin problem in the Valley back in February 2014 — enabling people to participate anonymously — 22,000 locals dialed in. “As a society, we can’t look at drug addiction as something to be ashamed of,” says Aimee Austin, a local woman grieving the loss of her daughter to heroin abuse. “We should be able to talk about it. How else are we going to help each other?”