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Nebraska —known as the "Cornhusker State," because of the state's primary crop (and of course for the cornhusking contests that were once held each fall in rural communities)—is today mostly known for its intense love of football. Nebraska Cornhuskers football is basically a state religion, and on game day, Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest city, with over 90,000 screaming fans! But sadly, Nebraska is becoming known for something far more sinister-a growing alcohol and drug addiction crisis.
Nebraska boasts a comfortable average annual income level of $77,278/year, and given its relative wealth, it would be tempting to think that it had been spared the scourge of drug addiction that has ravaged poorer states. But despite being well-off in terms of resources, Nebraska drug and alcohol abuse continues to rise at an alarming rate.
In a recent study, approximately 7.01 percent of Nebraska residents reported past month use of illicit drugs. And, as a direct consequence of drug use, 118 persons died in Nebraska in 2009. Stimulants, (including methamphetamine) are the most commonly cited drugs among drug treatment admissions in Nebraska.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, with nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year. Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Nebraska like freight train, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Nebraska, nearly 35% of the 138 drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a total of 63 fatalities (a rate of 3.3.) Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Nebraska providers wrote 50.6 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Nebraska youth, and the numbers are concerning:
25% of high school students report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Nebraska high school students report they've used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Nebraska youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Nebraska residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Cornhusker State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Nebraska State Facts
Nebraska Population: 1,710,188
Law Enforcement Officers in Nebraska: 3,694
Nebraska Prison Population: 6,600
Nebraska Probation Population: 20,847
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 32
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Nebraska
Cocaine: 35.7 kgs.
Heroin: 0.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 6.3 kgs.
Marijuana: 0.9 kgs.
Ecstasy: 0 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 65 (DEA, state, and local)
Nebraska Drug Situation: Methamphetamine is the major concern for law enforcement within the state of Nebraska. Nebraska continues to be a transshipment state for Mexican methamphetamine with Interstate 80 providing easy west to east access across the state. Nebraska has over 165 meat-packing/poultry plants and 55,000 farms statewide. The number of Hispanic workers, both legal and illegal, have nearly tripled in the last 10 years, and Hispanic children currently represent the largest minority student population in the state. While most are honest and hard working, this rapid growth has allowed drug trafficking organizations with ties to Mexico to more easily blend into the community.
Cocaine in Nebraska: Cocaine is predominantly controlled by Hispanic trafficking organizations, many from Mexico. Cocaine is transported via car, parcel package and body carriers from Mexico via El Paso, Texas. Cocaine is available at both the wholesale and retail level. Crack cocaine is a serious problem in the large urban centers of Nebraska.
Heroin in Nebraska: Heroin is available in small amounts in the Omaha, Nebraska area. While not considered a drug of choice in Nebraska, some Hispanic trafficking organizations are poly-drug and have heroin available for consumer use.Methamphetamine in Nebraska: Methamphetamine is the greatest drug threat to the state, and is available in almost every town and community. Hispanic drug trafficking organizations are flooding most Hispanic communities with methamphetamine from the southwestern border region of the United States. Methamphetamine produced in clandestine labs is also readily available in many communities. With the vast amount of farms across the state and limited law enforcement resources, this area is prime for exploitation. The Omaha Metropolitan area has seen an increase in the availability of crystal methamphetamine or “ice.”
Predatory Drugs in Nebraska: The popularity of predatory or club drugs continues to be a concern to law enforcement and to local communities. There is a perception among users that these drugs are "safe" to use. Preliminary investigations show organizations in Nebraska have been receiving multi-hundred to thousand dosage units of MDMA (Ecstasy) from Florida and Arizona. Efforts are currently underway to link investigations of mid-level distributors and "Rave" parties.
Marijuana in Nebraska: Marijuana is the most prevalent illicit drug in Nebraska. Domestic production of both outdoor and hydroponic indoor grows have been steady with many seizures netting upwards of 500 plants. Marijuana produced outside of Nebraska and transported into the state is controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organizations at the wholesale level. At the retail level, independent dealers, outlaw motorcycle gangs, street gangs, Native Americans, and Mexican groups share equally in the retail market.
Other Drugs in Nebraska: OxyContin is widely available throughout Nebraska. Stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids and illegally diverted pharmaceuticals are abused to a much lesser degree than the more traditional drugs in Nebraska.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There has been one MET deployment in the State of Nebraska since the inception of the program, in Lexington.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There has been one RET deployment in the State of Nebraska since the inception of the program, in Omaha.
DEA Special Topics: Interstate 80 crosses Nebraska from east to west and serves as a major smuggling route for drug trafficking organizations. During FY2003, Operation Pipeline highway interdictions in the state of Nebraska led to seizures including approximately 42.5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.5 kilograms of heroin, 450 pounds of marijuana, 24 pounds of methamphetamine and $850,000 U.S. currency.