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R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.7, W.2, L.4, L.6

America’s Drug Crisis

Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after taking a type of drug called opioids.

Why are so many people using these drugs, and how are families dealing with the loss of loved ones? Read on to find out.

    Luke Leitwein loved when his brother, Travis, visited. Travis was 17 years older, and he was Luke’s hero. He could do backflips on the trampoline. He’d play basketball with Luke in the yard. When Travis was leaving, he would wrap Luke in a big bear hug.

    Luke, who is 12, sometimes wondered if something was wrong with his brother. Travis wouldn’t visit for months at a time. When he did come over, his mom would hide all the medicine in the house. Once, Travis asked Luke for $20. “I didn’t know why,” he says.

    Then just before Christmas of 2017, Luke found out why. His mom came into his room at their house in Ohio. She told Luke that Travis had been struggling with drug addiction for nearly 10 years. That money he had asked for? It had been for drugs. “She showed me pictures of Travis holding me when I was a baby,” Luke remembers. “Then she said I wouldn’t see him until I went to heaven.” 

    On December 20, 2017, Travis had died of an overdose.

    Luke Leitwein loved his brother, Travis. Travis was 17 years older. He would visit Luke and his mom. He was Luke’s hero. He could do backflips. He would play basketball with Luke. When Travis was leaving, he would give Luke a big hug.

    Sometimes, Luke wondered if something was wrong with Travis. He wouldn’t visit for a few months. Then he would show up. His mom would hide all the medicine. This happened over and over. Once, Travis asked Luke for $20. “I didn’t know why,” says Luke, who is now 12.

    Later, Luke found out why. It was just before Christmas of 2017. His mom told him that Travis had a drug addiction. That $20 he had asked for? It had been for drugs. “She showed me pictures of Travis holding me when I was a baby,” Luke remembers. “Then she said I wouldn’t see him until I went to heaven.” 

    Travis had died of an overdose. He died on December 20, 2017.

    Luke Leitwein treasured the times when his brother, Travis, visited. Travis, who was 17 years older, was Luke’s hero. He could do backflips on the trampoline, and he’d play basketball with Luke in the yard. Before leaving, Travis would embrace Luke in a big bear hug.

    Luke, who is 12, sometimes wondered if something was wrong with his brother. Travis wouldn’t visit for months at a time—and when he did come over, his mom would hide all the medicine in the house. Once, Travis asked Luke for $20. “I didn’t know why,” Luke recalls.

    Then just before Christmas of 2017, Luke found out the reason. His mom came into his room at their house in Ohio. She told Luke that Travis had been struggling with drug addiction for nearly 10 years. That money he had asked for? It had been for drugs. “She showed me pictures of Travis holding me when I was a baby,” Luke remembers. “Then she said I wouldn’t see him until I went to heaven.” 

    On December 20, 2017, Travis had died of an overdose.

Pills for Pain 

    Travis was addicted to a group of drugs called opioids [OH-pee-oydz]. And he was not alone. In the past 20 years, opioid use has soared. Opioids include deadly drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl. In 2018, opioid overdoses killed about 130 Americans a day.

    For many people, the problem starts at the doctor’s office. In the 1990s, drug companies urged doctors to use new opioid drugs. So doctors gave patients pills like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet to treat pain. The drugmakers insisted these medicines were safe. 

    Today, we know they were wrong. Studies show that 1 in 10 people who start using opioids have trouble stopping. Teen athletes go to the doctor with knee injuries. Adults go to the hospital for surgery. They come home with OxyContin—and get hooked. When they run out of the pills, they try to buy them illegally. 

    People who get addicted often move on to cheaper, more dangerous drugs like heroin. Luke’s mom watched it happen to Travis. “The pain pills were $30 a pill, and he needed three a day,” she says. “He couldn’t afford it, so he tried heroin.”

    Travis was addicted to opioids [OH-pee-oydz]. That’s a group of drugs. In the past 20 years, opioid use has soared. Vicodin is an opioid. So are OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl. These drugs can be deadly. In 2018, about 130 Americans died from opioid overdoses each day.

    In the 1990s, drug companies wanted doctors to use new opioid drugs. So doctors gave patients these drugs to treat pain. The drugmakers insisted these drugs were safe. 

    Today, we know they were wrong. Studies show that 1 in 10 people who start using opioids have trouble stopping. People see a doctor for a knee injury. Or they have surgery. They come home with OxyContin for the pain. They get hooked. But they run out of the pills. Then they try to buy them illegally. 

    Some people move on to heroin. It’s cheaper. It’s also more dangerous. That’s what happened with Travis. “The pain pills were $30 a pill, and he needed three a day,” says Luke’s mom. “He couldn’t afford it. So he tried heroin.”

    Travis was addicted to opioids [OH-pee-oydz], a class of deadly drugs that includes Vicodin, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl. His story is not uncommon. Opioid use has soared in the past two decades, and overdoses killed about 130 Americans a day in 2018.

    For many people, the doctor’s office is where their addiction begins. In the 1990s, drug companies encouraged doctors to prescribe new opioid drugs to treat pain. As a result, doctors gave patients pills like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. The drugmakers insisted these medicines were safe. 

    Today, we know the opposite is true. Studies show that 10 percent of people who start using opioids have difficulty stopping. Teen athletes go to the doctor with knee injuries. Adults go to the hospital for surgery. They return home with OxyContin or another painkiller—and get hooked. When they run out of the pills, they attempt to buy them illegally. 

    People who become addicted often end up turning to cheaper, more dangerous drugs like heroin. Luke’s mom saw Travis experience this downward spiral. “The pain pills were $30 a pill, and he needed three a day,” she explains. “He couldn’t afford it, so he tried heroin.”

Hurting Families

    The opioid epidemic has affected millions of families—and not just siblings like Luke. More than 2 million kids live with a parent who suffers from drug addiction. Kecelia Hill, 14, was one of them. When she was in fifth grade, her parents were caught using opioids. State officials decided to take Kecelia and her two siblings away. Her parents didn’t argue. “They knew they had screwed up,” Kecelia says.

    Eventually, Kecelia’s aunt and uncle took them in for good. “It was really hard,” Kecelia says. “I had to go to school and pretend that nothing was going on.”

    The opioid epidemic has affected millions of families. Luke’s brother was the one who was addicted. But it can be parents too. More than 2 million kids live with a parent who suffers from drug addiction. Kecelia Hill, 14, was one of them. Her parents were caught using opioids. She was in fifth grade. State officials took Kecelia and her two siblings away. 

    Kecelia’s aunt and uncle took them in. “It was really hard,” Kecelia says. “I had to go to school and pretend that nothing was going on.”

    The opioid epidemic has affected millions of families—and sometimes parents are the ones struggling with drugs. In fact, more than 2 million kids live with a parent who suffers from drug addiction.

    When Kecelia Hill, now 14, was in fifth grade, her parents were caught using opioids. Her parents didn’t argue when state officials removed her and her two siblings from their home. “They knew they had screwed up,” Kecelia says. 

    Eventually, Kecelia’s aunt and uncle took them in for good. “It was really hard,” Kecelia says. “I had to go to school and pretend that nothing was going on.”

Lasting Scars

    Now, more people like Kecelia and Luke are sharing their stories. And the problem is getting attention. Doctors are giving out fewer opioid medicines. Police are also beginning to think about drug use as a disease rather than a crime. Cities like Seattle are sending people who use drugs to special courts. These courts get people treatment instead of sending them to jail.

    But for family members, addiction leaves a lasting scar. Luke knows he’ll never get his big brother back. He misses the backflips and the basketball games and the bear hugs. He does all the visiting now—at Travis’s grave.

    Kecelia still hopes her parents will stop using. But she doesn’t think she wants to live with them again. “I just want them to keep working hard,” she says. 

    “Even though my parents hurt us a lot, we’ll always love them.” 

    Now, people like Kecelia and Luke are sharing their stories. And the problem is getting attention. Doctors are giving out fewer opioids. Police are starting to think about drug use as a disease, not a crime. Some cities send people who use drugs to special courts. These courts do not put the people in jail. Instead, the people get treatment. The treatment helps them stop using drugs.

    But addiction leaves a lasting scar on family members. Luke misses his brother. He misses the backflips, the basketball games, and the hugs. He does all the visiting now—by visiting Travis’s grave.

    Kecelia hopes her parents will stop using drugs. But she doesn’t want to live with them again. “I just want them to keep working hard,” she says. “We’ll always love them.”

    The problem is now getting attention—largely because more people like Kecelia and Luke are sharing their stories. Doctors are prescribing fewer opioids, and police are beginning to regard drug dependency as a disease rather than a crime. In cities like Seattle, people who use drugs are tried in special courts that help them get treatment instead of sending them to jail.

    But for family members, addiction leaves a lasting scar. Luke knows that his brother is never coming back. He misses the backflips and the basketball games and the bear hugs. Luke does all the visiting now—at Travis’s grave.

    Kecelia still hopes her parents will stop using, but she doubts that she would ever want to live with them again. “I just want them to keep working hard,” she says. “Even though my parents hurt us a lot, we’ll always love them.”

ACTIVITY: 
5 Questions About
Opioid Addiction

What to do: Answer the questions below. Use full sentences.

What to do: Answer the questions below. Use full sentences.

What to do: Answer the questions below. Use full sentences.

What are opioids? 

What are opioids? 

What are opioids? 

Where do many people first get opioid drugs? 

Where do many people first get opioid drugs? 

Where do many people first get opioid drugs? 

Why do people who are hooked on pain pills often start using heroin?

Why do people who are hooked on pain pills often start using heroin?

Why do people who are hooked on pain pills often start using heroin?

Who is affected by a person’s drug addiction?

Who is affected by a person’s drug addiction?

Who is affected by a person’s drug addiction?

How are some police and special courts starting to help drug users?

How are some police and special courts starting to help drug users?

How are some police and special courts starting to help drug users?

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