The latest statistics of United States heroin trends can be summarized in one disheartening word: more. Facts are showing that not just more individuals are using heroin, but more addicts are falling victim to co-occurring disorders; that is an addiction to more than one substance at a time. With all of these substances flying through the veins and brains of individuals falling ill with the disease of addiction, it is no surprise that many more people are dying from overdose and other complications.
Reputable reports are showing a dark reality as heroin use climbed the statistics from late 2002 to late 2013. These reports also point toward there being a link between prescription opioid painkiller abuse and use of heroin, another opioid. Evidence is stating that the abuse or dependence on opioid painkillers is the most threatening risk factor when it comes to heroin addiction.
Despite these frightening trends, the report does give hope. It outlines ways that every individual including government leaders and medical professionals can be instrumental in resolving the crisis.
Current Heroin Facts
Heroin abuse and variety in abusers is elevated:
- Historically, heroin use has been limited to young, poor men in urban areas. These individuals still account for the majority of users; however, among nearly all demographic groups more individuals are finding themselves abusing the drug. Some of these increases are more dramatic than others: heroin abuse in women has doubled, and has surpassed the doubling point among caucasians.
- Nearly four hundred thousand individuals reported using heroin in the past year every year from 2002 to 2004. In the years 2011 to 2013, average use was closer to seven hundred thousand. That is a jaw dropping increase that is extreme enough to call the problem an epidemic.
Combining Heroin With Other Drugs
There is almost always more than one drug associated with heroin abuse:
- Just shy of one-hundred percent of all individuals who admitted to using heroin last year also used at least one other drug in that same previous year, while over sixty percent of users consumed at least three other drugs. The statistics from the previous few years indicate that more than forty percent of heroin users qualify as abusers or dependents on prescription opioids, more than thirty percent abuse or are dependent on alcohol, a quarter on cocaine, and nearly a quarter on marijuana. These are startling statistics which contribute to the rate of heroin-related deaths as combining the narcotic with other drugs greatly increases risk of overdose.
- A powerfully important fact for anyone using prescription opioids is that those who begin to abuse and become addicted to these prescription drugs are more than forty times at risk of turning to heroin abuse and becoming dependent on it.
These facts indicate to experts that abusers are rarely using alone. Meanwhile, every piece of evidence still encourages more evidence that there is an obvious connection between prescription opioid painkillers and abuse of street heroin.
The Numbers of Individuals Dying of Heroin Overdose Soars
Critically important facts about heroin and deaths caused by drug-overdose include:
- The trend of heroin abuse and heroin-related deaths is mirroring itself. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths has increased more than three times.
- Over eight thousand addicts fell victim to heroin overdose in 2013. More than sixty percent of those deaths included at least one more drug that was added to the toxicity and fatality of the death. The drug that was most commonly combined with heroin in these deaths was cocaine.
The factual numbers are disturbing; however, it is still less of an issue than other substance abuse problems. More than five hundred thousand individuals are estimated to be dependent and addicted to heroin, while two million individuals are estimated to be addicted and dependent on prescription opioids. The most concerning aspect of these facts is that the rate of opiate-related deaths is almost entirely proportionate to the use. This statistic towers over the amount of substance-related deaths associated with other substances. The facts suggest that at least two addicts for every one-hundred will die from heroin.
Why The Increase In Heroin Abuse?
What is responsible for the increase of heroin problems in the lives of addicts? Careful research is pointing to two major factors: the increase of addicts becoming addicted to prescription opioids and an excessive increase in the availability of heroin on the streets leading to a decrease in cost.
The link between heroin abuse and prescription opioid abuse is not to be misunderstood; it is not to say that one use saves an individual from using the other, nor that one is a safer or “better” option than the other. Rather, prescription opioid abuse seems to be preparing individuals for a heroin addiction. The link more likely points out that those who are abusing prescription opioids are twice as likely to use heroin, and likewise those who are already abusing heroin are nearly one-hundred percent more likely to abuse prescription opioids. Those who are addicted to prescription opioids are the perfect candidates for heroin addiction because the chemical makeup is essentially the same in the two respective chemicals. The both act on the opioid receptors in the brain in the same way, and the what adds to the scariness of the fact is that heroin is more accessible than ever. The street drug is easier to get and approximately five times cheaper than prescription opioids sold on the street.
The abuse can then be looked at more as an issue of which opiate is available at the time, and what is affordable, rather than which drug is acceptable, safer, or better. For many addicts, the drug abuse is not about progression, but rather supply and demand.
What Can Be Done About Heroin Abuse
There are plenty of facts that can be thought of as discouraging; however, there is hope that is emerging that can be put toward making the heroin crisis more manageable.
More responsible opioid prescribing. This includes:
- More in-depth education for doctors and their patients that includes knowing when it is appropriate to prescribe prescription opioids. It is critical to consider the benefits compared to the risks, particularly for non-cancer pain patients. Those who take a few pills may become addicted easily, while those who take a few too many pills put themselves at risk for overdose. It is important that patients protect themselves by becoming their own advocates and know which pills are being prescribed to them. They should also always work with their doctors to explore other options for pain relief prior to accepting a prescription for prescription opiates.
- There are now prescription drug monitoring programs that put limitations on prescribing that can be considered inappropriate, and can help health professionals realize who may be at greater risk of developing a problem with opioids. States can individually set systems into place that can help to ensure that compliance and up-to-date information is easily accessible for medical workers.
Another factor that is sure to improve the problem the United States is facing with opiate addiction is better addiction treatment. Addicts struggling with dependence and addiction on heroin or other opioids need access to cost appropriate insurance coverage and substance abuse treatment that is proven to work. The treatment for heroin abuse should, regardless of income or financial situation, always include medication-assisted therapy, which has been proven to be effective in alleviating opiate abuse and reducing opiate-related deaths.
Above all, possibly one of the most crucial keys to aiding in the lessening of opiate addiction is the role that society plays in addiction. There is a social stigma that is associated with addiction to any drug, and if society can work together to overcome this stigma, more addicts may feel more comfortable with coming out with their addiction and seeking help before it is too late.
Another key advancement in the fight against opiate-related death is making the availability and use of naloxone more common. This drug can help to reverse opioid-related overdose; therefore, it is something that emergency first-responders, caregivers, and family members of known addicts and drug and alcohol treatment facilities should have on hand. If this drug is more frequently available around individuals who are prescribed opioids, more lives can be saved.
Law enforcement can also play an important role in improving these alarming statistics. Through watching and tracking communities where heroin use is becoming more prevalent, and then enforcing laws that can help limit the supply, the availability of heroin will decrease, which will in turn make it less affordable, and thus, a less desired drug.
All of these factors work together to help end heroin addiction. It is up to all levels of the government and society to collaborate so that the final solution to the heroin epidemic may be discovered and utilized in every addict’s life. The reality is that opiate addiction, whether it is to heroin or prescription opioids is alive in everyone’s community; it could be your sister, your teacher, your neighbor, or even your grandmother. It touches nearly everyone’s life in today’s world at some point or another, and therefore, is a community issue that everyone must work together to solve.