The Heroin Epidemic is Real

Heroin use in the United States remains a major problem, with approximately 669,000 Americans using the drug every year. If this statistics doesn’t open your eyes, consider these (also courtesy of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health):

  • The number of heroin users has been increasing since 2007.
  • This trend is driven primarily by use among adults in the 18 – 25 age range.
  • The number of first time users continues to increase, reaching 156,000 in 2012.

With numbers like these, the impact of heroin can be severe. In addition to a variety of mental and physical health concerns, heroin use kills thousands of people every year.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 4 million people have used heroin at least one time. Using the drug one time does not always lead to a problem, but this can happen. The agency also noted the following:

“It is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.”

This is an extremely high number, as it means that approximately 1 out of every 4 people who experiment with heroin eventually develop a dependency on the drug.


Heroin’s Ease of Access, Ease of Use


Think about it this way: if heroin was unavailable in the United States, even if it was available in small quantities, the epidemic would not be nearly as advanced.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. With each passing year, the availability of heroin continues to rise. This allows people of all ages to get their hands on the drug.

Furthermore, heroin can be taken in a variety of ways, which again increases use. It can be injected, which is most common, as well as snorted, sniffed, and smoked. It does not matter how the drug is taken, it makes its way to the brain in a hurry. This contributes t the high risk of addiction, as well as the many associated health risks.


Young People Get on the Wrong Path


For many people, especially those in the younger age groups, heroin is not the first drug they experiment with.

Prescription opioid pain medications, including but not limited to Vicodin and Oxycontin, can have similar effects to heroin. These drugs are commonly abused in the United States. Additionally, they have been linked to future heroin abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that approximately half of young people who inject heroin first used prescription opioids. Many of these people ended up moving onto heroin because it was easier to access and more affordable.

When young people get on the wrong path, there is a chance they will continue in this direction in the years to come. This only adds to the epidemic, as people are getting started at an early age.

With increased access to heroin (noted above), it is easier than ever for individuals to get their hands on the drug, thus forming an addiction at an early age.


Intense Short Term Effects


Short-term_effects_of_heroinLike many drug, heroin is used because the person likes how it makes them feel. Once this drug enters the brain, it is converted to morphine, leading to an almost immediate pleasurable sensation. This rush is what keeps the person coming back for more. The more heroin a person takes the more intense the rush becomes.

Along with the pleasurable feeling, heroin use is often accompanied by dry mouth, flushing of the skin, severe itching, vomiting, and nausea. Soon enough, once the effects wear off, the person will have decreased mental function accompanied by a sense of drowsiness. During this time, breathing and heart function also slow down, which is often the cause of overdose death.


Long Term Effects


Many people have successfully overcome a heroin addiction, but it is not easy. The more a person uses the drug the more addicted they become. Also, they will begin to face a variety of long-term effects, including:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infectious diseases
  • Bacterial infections
  • Abscesses
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Infection of the heart lining
  • Arthritis

These long term effects may not kill a person right away, but over time they can lead to the extreme deterioration of one’s health, eventually causing death.


Alarming Heroin Statistics


The Foundation for a Drug-Free World is dedicated to sharing the truth about drugs. More specifically, the organization shares detailed statistics concerning a variety of drugs, including heroin. Here are five of the most alarming stats, all of which point to a growing epidemic:

  • An estimated 9.2 million people in the world use heroin.
  • The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 153,000 current heroin users in the US in 2007.
  • Opiates, primarily heroin, account for 18 percent of drug and alcohol treatment admissions in the United States.
  • Opiates, primarily heroin, were responsible for 80 percent of drug related deaths in Europe, according to a report published by the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Where does the world’s opium supply come from? It goes without saying that cutting off the supply of opium would go a long way in curbing this growing problem. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World added another interesting data point in regards to the supply, noting the following:

“In 2007, 93% of the world’s opium supply came from Afghanistan. (Opium is the raw material for heroin supply.) Its total export value was about $4 billion, of which almost three quarters went to traffickers. About a quarter went to Afghan opium farmers.”

With roughly 75 percent of the world’s opium supply ending up in the hands of traffickers, not those who need the drug for good reason, it is easy to see why the heroin epidemic continues to grow throughout the world.


U.S. Health Officials Continue to Monitor Epidemic


According to U.S. health officials, heroin overdose deaths quadrupled between the years 2002 and 2013. Coupled with the fact that heroin use increased by more than 60 percent during the same time period, the government is well aware that this remains a major problem throughout the country.

Due to the sheer number of people who abuse the drug, it is only natural for many to die of a heroin overdose every year. In 2013 alone, approximately 8,200 people died as a result of taking too much heroin.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently discussed the epidemic in a Reuters interview, noting that some prescription medications, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, increase the chance of developing a heroin addiction. He said the following:

“Everything we see points to more accessible, less-expensive heroin all over the country.”

Frieden also discussed what it will take to reverse the epidemic, noting that an “all society response” is necessary in order to increase awareness. He added:

“There are lots of people who have not yet gotten an opiate and we need to protect them from the risk of getting addicted.”

By eliminating access to opiates, the number of people who develop a heroin addiction would decline. This includes prescription painkillers, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes:

“45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.”


The Future of the Heroin Epidemic


U.S. health officials are well aware that the heroin epidemic has spiraled out of control. There are steps the country can take to help curb this problem, however, progress will not be made until a targeted plan is put into place.

With heroin use doubling among people in the 18 – 25 range over the past 10 years, it is imperative to help young people avoid the use of the drug (as well as prescription painkillers).

Please do your part to help, and review the following resources if you know someone that is struggling with heroin addiction: