Every week in Ohio, at least 23 people die of a heroin overdose.
Dr. Jamile Wakin-Fleming is trying to stop the abuse before it starts with a new book aimed at educating young kids about the effects the drug can have on their bodies.
“The number of deaths is exponentially increasing,” she said. “They’re dying by the bunch.”
Wakim-Fleming, a liver specialist, says she’s seeing an alarming increase in the number of liver issues starting at a younger age. She says that 30 percent of cases on her floor at the Cleveland Clinic are alcohol or drug abuse related.
“I realize when I talk to them, they have no knowledge,” she said.
That lack of information inspired her book, “How the Birds Stop Singing,” available for $6 on Amazon. The book, which Wakim-Fleming would like to see in local schools and libraries, is written from a doctor’s perspective after interviewing hundreds of addicts.
“I thought it would be most influential to talk to those who have already done it and survived and have seen the consequences of it,” she said.
One of the topics covered in the book is high tolerance, which some young adults think is a good thing. Wakim-Fleming counters, saying, “It’s making you want to drink more until your liver shuts down and when your liver shuts down, every organ shuts down after that.”
Donna Lauer, a former FBI analyst, contributed to the book through research and statistics. She found the range of demographics disturbing. The drug’s users range from kids as young as 12 to adults as old as 60 or 70, from people in inner cities to people in suburbs.
“I’ve had parents say, I’m raising my child right,” she said. “It’s not going to happen to them. Statistics don’t say that.”
She says that, for parents, the answer to solving this addiction problem is not simple. However, she and Wakim-Fleming are hoping that their book can start the conversation.
A recovering heroin addict believes that the book could save lives.
Nicole Walmsley has been sober for 45 months and now works with local law enforcement to help get addicts off the street and into recovery. She speaks at local schools, telling her story, because she truly thinks education at a young age will make a difference.
As a 19-year-old, Walmsley had no idea that a pill, prescribed to her after a medical procedure, would lead her to heroin.
“We didn’t have the education to teach us that a pill could lead us into heroin,” she said. “It changed something inside of me, that made me feel good and shortly after they were prescribed, I started abusing them.”
Walmsley believes that kids need to be targeted with this crucial information, much like her generation was with drunk driving. Walmsley vividly remembers the videos she watched in school about the dangers.
“It was of all the cars totaled and what happened to the people and I would replay it in my mind over and over,” she said. “And even though I was an addict, later in life, I didn’t drink and drive.”
To Walmsley and Wakim-Fleming, the key is stopping the problem before it begins.
“Before they start, I want them to know what they’re getting themselves into,” said Wakim-Fleming.
“Education, education, education,” added Walmsley. “They need to know.”
Wakim-Fleming will speak about her book at 7 p.m. on March 7 in the Porter Meeting Room at the Porter Library in Westlake. You can register for the event here.
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