The Rise of Heroin in America

There’s no doubt that heroin is making a huge comeback in the US due to the rise in the number of seizures of the illicit drug along the US borders, as well as the substantial increase in overdose fatalities reported across the country. What’s the difference? Today, heroin isn’t just limited to the back alleys and dark corners of urban America. Now, it’s making its way into high-end posh apartments and the suburban streets of New York City as well as the rural back roads. Heroin is prevalent in virtually all demographic societies today.

Heroin’s Reach

Virtually every day, new articles from both health officials and law enforcement across the country report intense increases in overdose deaths as a result of heroin. In Vermont, the governor devoted his whole annual address in 2014 to the legislature for what he called the state’s ‘heroin crisis.’ The reach of heroin knows no bounds when you consider the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor who was unfortunately found dead with 70 bags of heroin and a needle stuck in his arm in his swanky $10,000 per month New York City apartment.

Heroin Abuse on the Rise

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heroin abuse increased sharply between 2007-2011 for individuals aged 12-49:

• First-time users rose from 106,000 to over 170,000
• Individuals addicted to heroin rose from 179,000 to more than 360,000
• Past-month users jumped from 373,000 to over 600,000

Another factor contributing to this increase involves a large number of prescription drug addicts are now turning to heroin because it is cheaper.

Heroin Overdose Fatalities on the Rise

The US Drug Enforcement Administration formed its National Drug Threat Assessment Summary from 2013 using the information from over 1,300 local and state law enforcement agencies. Based on the DEA’s findings, deaths due to heroin overdoses increased from 1,880 in 2004 up to 3,038 over the course of 2010. Authorities in the Minneapolis area in Minnesota reported that heroin overdose fatalities tripled in one year starting in 2010 to 2011. In the same one year long period, heroin-related intoxication deaths nearly doubled in Pennsylvania.

The DEA believes the rise in heroin overdose fatalities stem from different factors such as the ones we have listed below.

  1. High-Purity Heroin Availability – Officials working in law enforcement in almost every area where a rise of heroin overdose fatalities occurred, also reported a rise in high-purity heroin on the street level as well. Due to the increase in the volume of heroin seized at the country’s southwest border, DEA officials think that the rise in pure heroin making its way into the US is stemming from both South American and Mexican-produced heroin from drug traffickers seeping into key areas of the nation that are used to a less pure form of heroin. According to the DEA, from 2008-2012, seizures of heroin along the southwest border rose by as much as 232 percent overall.
  2. The Switch to Heroin – When federal and state authorities cracked down on the prescription drug epidemic, it resulted in some unexpected consequences. The effort to shutdown ‘doctor shopping’ and ‘pill mills’ made notorious prescription drugs like OxyContin even more difficult to obtain as well as expensive. As a result, several former prescription pain pill abusers instead turned to heroin since it was less expensive and readily available. Individuals who previously abused prescription pain pills for non-medical reasons were nearly 20 times more likely to start using heroin than non-prescription users, based on the findings of a SAMHSA report.
  3. The Dangers of Heroin – Basically, there are two primary dangers when using heroin. First, it has a very high risk of accidental overdose and second, it’s extremely addictive. Heroin dosage amounts and purity can vary widely, unlike mainstream prescription drugs. Therefore, the heroin user can never actually know the true dosage level they’re ingesting, which can sometimes lead to death.

With the rise in heroin in America today, the need for effective addiction treatment programs is also increasing.  Currently, however, there are thousands of programs already established that have saved hundreds of lives.

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