Understanding The Current Wave Of Heroin Use

One cannot go through a week without hearing some story in the local news about heroin; an arrest, an overdose, the numbers of ER visits increasing, etc. Googling for “Heroin Use,” to see what the trends are in news stories, the first three pages display ten articles posted in the past 12 hours. Over one hundred news articles are searchable that have been posted in the past 24 hours. This is a great deal of attention focused on this ongoing problem in the addiction world.

What Is It?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2016), “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. Opioids are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasurable effects and relieve pain.” Many have been on opioids to help with severe pain with few complications, however they are on a medication that presents a higher risk of abuse and addiction.

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The Numbers

Looking at the statistics surrounding opioid use, the picture begins to clear, as sad as it may be. Studies of people who have used an illegal drug within the past month have been decreasing steadily since 2009 and rates have been down overall throughout the new millennium when looking at the past several decades (ONDCP, 2011). So that is the positive side, as most illegal drug use has been declining or remains lower than average in the past decade.

When we look at heroin use, and opioid use in general, the picture looks very different. Since 2002, heroin use for men has gone up by 50 percent and for women by 100 percent (CDC, 2015b). For all people between the ages of 18-25, heroin use has doubled (CDC, 2015b). The CDC (2015b) also reports a nearly 286 percent increase in the number of heroin related overdose deaths since 2002. In 2014 there were 47,000 overdose deaths, of which 10,000 were from heroin, and 18,000 more from opioids in general (ASAM, 2016). This presents a much bleaker picture and the need for a call to action.

The Bigger Picture

Heroin addiction is a horrible situation for individuals, families, and communities, as heroin use, and opioids in general, are literally killing people. It is with hope that this will be the call to action that convinces the nation to invest more in substance abuse treatment and prevention. But there is also another trend to note. Again using CDC data, the pattern of substance use follows that one class of drug will always be increasing, and another will be declining. Looking back from 1980 on to 1998, the use of cocaine, spurred on by the creation and distribution of crack cocaine, was on the rise, and as abhorrent then, as heroin was now, with use levels rivaling those of heroin today.

Now there are many theories as to why this is, touching all aspects of social and medical sciences, from sociological trends, to the economics of substance use, to criminal justice trends, right down to the psychology of addiction. There is no clear answer yet, other than this is the face of addiction in America. It is always changing in regard to the drug used and the people using.

What This Means

Overall what this means is that addiction is still a tremendous drain on resources and takes a toll on human lives in America today. The responses to the heroin crisis are heartening and provide us with hope for the future. Police and emergency responders are often carrying naloxone, a fast-acting drug that can counteract the effects of a heroin overdose. In some places, with support from the Federal government, more money is going into treatment, with more access to medically-assisted care for heroin addiction. It is also spurring more research into substance use and abuse, which, along with the trends that go hand-in-hand with it and more understanding, can pave the way for more treatment and prevention.

For help getting into a treatment program for heroin abuse or addiction, please contact us today at RehabCenter.net. We are here to get you or your loved one back on track and into recovery.

American Society of Addiction Medicine - Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts and Figures

Center for Disease Control - Number and Age-Adjusted Rates of Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Opioid Analgesics and Heroin: United States, 2000–2014

Center for Disease Control - Today’s Heroin Epidemic

Office of National Drug Control Policy - National Drug Control Strategy

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