100 Days of Trump: Inside America's heroin and painkiller epidemic

There's a definite link between voting habits and high drug mortality rates in certain counties

100 Days of Trump: Inside America's heroin and painkiller epidemic

Image: Toby Talbot/AP/Press Association Images

The North-Eastern United States has one of the worst rates of opiate addiction and overdose deaths in the world - and the region overwhelmingly backed Donald Trump last November.

In 2014, 2,400 people in Pennsylvania died from drug overdoses. Last year, Penn State University has since conducted a study examining the correlation between the high drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates and the swing from blue to red.

Of 3,000 counties examined, 80% of them showed an improvement in Donald Trump's election results over Mitt Romney's in 2012. The movement was at its highest in the counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates.

"They were slowly watching me die"

Ryan Cooper, a US army veteran of the Afghan war, explained what happened to him when he returned to service.

"I found myself lost," he said. "When I realised I couldn't stay in school, I couldn't keep a job, I just found myself in the lowest of lows."

His addiction began with prescription drugs, which he had said numb the pain. Shortly after, a friend recommended heroin due to how easily accessible the drug was.

"The amount of heroin that is going through the area, it seems ridiculous, but that was the more logical option at the time."

Cooper said his addiction took a massive toll on his family.

"It tore them apart," he said. "They were slowly watching me die. I was perpetually homeless, perpetually broke Then I started finding myself in legal situations. 

"I just found myself between a rock and a hard place."

'I accepted I was going to die'

Ryan sought rehabilitation at Clearbrook Manor rehabilitation facility, saying the only way he can stay sober is by helping others.

"Not only did I think I was going to die, but I accepted it, and that's a terrifying prospect.

"Coming from where I did a few months ago, it still blows my mind when I wake up every day to come to work. This place really helped me out of a predicament."

Fighting addiction

In Pennsylvania, one person overdoses every three days.

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order to deal with the opioid epidemic, creating a commission headed by New Jersey Gov Chris Christie.

On the ground in Pennsylvania, Narcan - the drug that stops heroin and opiate overdoses - is free in every single pharmacy following a state order. In some schools, Narcan nasal sprays are distributed among students.

Despite this, Joe Cain, an employee at Clearbrook Manor, says the signs are not positive in terms of government response.

"I do a lot of stuff in schools, and the first question we'll ask the kids is 'how many of you know where your parents keep your medication?' Every single hand goes up.

"The second question we ask is, 'how many of your friends keep your medications under lock?' Three hands go up, maybe, out of a group of 600."

Cain said it will interesting to see what happens, given the push for medicated-assisted treatment. He, however, is not in favour of this method, describing it as "trying to treat a gunshot wound with gauze."