Last year, a report from the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that heroin use is on the rise in the United States. According to the study, there were approximately 669,000 heroin users in the U.S. in 2012, up from just 373,000 in 2007. Read on to learn more about this rising tide of heroin abuse in America and its effects on public health and society.
In general, the largest group of heroin users is the 18-25 year old demographic, among which there have been the greatest increase of first-time users of the drug. In fact, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an unprecedented 156,000 Americans used heroin for the first time–more than double the number who used heroin for the first time in 2006.
One bright spot in the SAMHSA report is that the number of heroin users in the 12- to 17-year-old demographic has declined in recent years; in fact, heroin use among 8th to 10th graders is currently at the lowest level in history.
Part of the reason for the increase in heroin use is that this drug has spread from being primarily accessed in urban areas to now also being a serious problem in more affluent suburban communities. While prescription pills were historically more of a problem among middle-class drug abusers, many experts believe that with the recession, many prescription drug users have transitioned to heroin, which has a much lower street value. And as law enforcement has cracked down on illicit use of prescription pills, heroin is also more easily accessible for many addicts.
Heroin in Suburbia
As heroin spreads to more suburban and even rural areas, the problem is compounded as addiction treatment options in far-flung communities can be scarce or even non-existent. According to research by the Maine Rural Health Research Center, 93% of heroin treatment programs are located in metropolitan areas. And for users who were previously addicted to prescription pills, the risk of overdose on street drugs like heroin, which can drastically vary in purity from batch to batch, is quite high.
Beyond the risk for overdose and other health concerns, the heroin epidemic has many implications for society at large. The impact of heroin addiction has public health consequences that include an increased number of children being removed from parental custody; increased traffic accidents and fatalities; increase in crime and increased need for law enforcement; and health system costs for overdose and treatment programs.
Communities are acting quickly to help staunch these effects. In at least 18 states, new legislature directly related to heroin addiction has been proposed. One such measure is allowing first responders to administer a drug that counteracts the effects of a heroin overdose. Another is the reduction or waiver of jail time for first time offenders who agree to enter treatment. Other states have proposed tougher sentences for drug traffickers and high-level possession charges, in an attempt to eliminate access to heroin.
If you or a family member is struggling with heroin addiction, the best strategy is to enroll in a comprehensive treatment program. Because of the varied purity of the drug, even a casual user can easily succumb to an overdose.