The sharp tip of a metal syringe disappears into the cushion of her pale flesh, dumping its contents into veins flecked with scars that tell a story of past transgressions.
With a tingle, this brown elixir ignites a wave of euphoria – a feeling of warmth, safety and blissful apathy.
After a while, the high wears off. The next time, she’ll demand more of this liquid ecstasy to feed an insatiable craving.
This perilous cycle called addiction often leads to drug overdoses, a major cause of accidental deaths in the United States.
About 6 in 10 drug overdose deaths involve opioids, a subset of controlled substances ranging from heroin to prescription painkillers routinely prescribed by doctors.
Since 1999, the number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled, with 78 people dying each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Today, we are seeing more people killed because of opioid overdose than traffic accidents,” President Barack Obama said at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
The statistic is the focus of both White House and Congressional initiatives aimed at helping more addicts receive treatment.
Such programs were largely unheard of decades ago when substance abuse carried a different stigma.
Back then, these people – these “junkies” – were often denigrated by society, dismissed for moral weakness or lack of self-control.
The late 80s, however, marked a turning point in the understanding of addiction.
A team of researchers – including 2008 National Medal of Science recipient Joanna Fowler – were able to scientifically demonstrate the physical and chemical changes to the brain caused by repetitive drug use.