As a girl who was raised in Syracuse, I love my hometown. But, there is a hidden issue deeper than the snow I shovel in my driveway: the heroin epidemic. Heroin can be found for as cheap as $8 to $10 for a bag in Syracuse, making it easily accessible for all. Dealers are plentiful and police have stated that when one dealer is caught, another will quickly take his place.

Heroin, an opioid, is notorious for creating a state of euphoria among its users. Its intense pleasurable effects make it a highly popular and addictive drug. Central New York has been called “just a small artery along the heroin highway,” by police; no longer is it just a drug found in the dark alleys of cities. Its influence is dangerously wide, and the easy accessibility of the drug makes it a top choice for distribution by gangs.

In 2014, there were 10,574 deaths caused by heroin overdoses in the U.S. As these rates increase nationwide, nurses in Syracuse are being trained to administer emergency treatment. One of the few ways to combat an overdose is through the administration of Narcan, an opioid antagonist, which serves to reverse heroin’s effects on the body as a depressant. These new techniques are vital, but more must be done to fight the epidemic.

It is important to note that heroin is a drug that is used by and negatively affects people of all demographics: the affluent and the needy, teenagers and adults. The world does not abide by the druggie stereotype. Danger lies in believing this stereotype and remaining ignorant on just how many people are impacted by drug use: 21.5 million Americans abused illicit substances in 2014, 586,000 of which involved heroin.

We can not dismiss heroin addiction as a non-issue — it is a huge one. And the epidemic is only set to worsen due to continued lax restrictions on prescription painkillers and a greater exposure of opioids to youth.

Authorities need to pay careful attention to the details of the recent surge in heroin and opioid usage. Accordingly, legislators must form a smart policy to combat it. The solution is not as simple as rounding up the dealers and placing them in jail. Rather, it is necessary to look at the drug users without judgment. Each individual should be dealt with on an individual level, as they combat an addiction.

This issue of increased heroin usage is not one that is foreign. It takes place in my hometown and throughout the country. It has the possibility to affect the people we know and their loved ones. Our communities should be talking more about this. Too many people are dying. We need to take an active role against the heroin crisis.