The US has been fighting–and losing–the infamous War on Drugs for decades, and attitudes towards the issue are shifting. More and more citizens favor decriminalization of marijuana, states that have had “blue laws” against alcohol sales for hundreds of years are easing up, and tobacco use is on the decline.
So why is heroin making a come back?
A drug that was stereotypically relegated to the seedy underbelly of society has not only been cropping up in rich kids’ suburban bedrooms, it’s part of the opioid class of drugs that’s now killing nearly three times as many people as it did just five years ago. Part of the reason, according to some experts, is that it’s still such a “big dog” drug that people don’t talk about it, either in terms of addiction or overdose. A “good” kid from a wealthy, two-parent family who overdoses on heroin becomes a taboo subject, and no one opens the issue for discussion.
One software programmer and former pre-med student turned heroin addict is working to fight heroin use with a video game-like program he’s written that clearly shows middle school and high school kids what the actual downward slide into heroin use looks like. By actually bringing the kids along as a fictional player in the game devolves from just experimenting with pills to trying heroin, they’re given a clearer picture of how heroin user first arises. It’s something the programmer himself remembers all too well.
Programmer Bill Patrianakos recalls this feeling of isolation and misinformation surrounding the more “hard core” drugs, meaning there was no social scene or peer group legends surrounding heroin as there are with marijuana or alcohol. The first time he tried heroin, he Googled places in Chicago to buy it, bought it, and took it home to his bedroom to try it after months of OxyContin addiction. It is this isolation that the programmer and many experts on addiction think are leading to the shocking increase in heroin-related overdoses and deaths.
In his software, Patrianakos seeks to show kids a more accurate progression from “normal life” to other drugs to an end result involving heroin.
It’s hardly the first time that software has been written to address drug use, but more of the preventative efforts have been on catching offenders or cross-referencing pharmacies in order to go after serial pill buyers. This game-like environment instead seeks to reach the new demographic of typical heroin users–a growing number of whom are white, middle class, and very young, as young as twelve years old–before they delve into more hard-core drug abuse.