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US Heroin Abuse Statistics

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

Our nation’s drug enforcement agencies and families have witnessed a surge of heroin across the United States. Research conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that “The portion of Americans using heroin has climbed five-fold in the last decade, and clinically defined heroin dependence has more than tripled.”

What Is Heroin Abuse?

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug derived from the opium poppy. The opioid drug class also includes illicitly used prescription opioid painkillers. These drugs relieve pain. Heroin users snort, smoke, or inject the drug.

As an opiate, heroin dulls pain and activates the pleasure and reward centers of your brain. This action creates a high and intense feelings of pleasure often referred to as euphoria. The euphoria can become so intense that it often outweighs critical factors within a person’s life. This can massively deteriorate a person’s sense of self-perseveration, their commitment to important responsibilities, and their pursuit of other, healthier pleasures.

Heroin abuse and dependence doesn’t occur in a vacuum. That is, certain other substance use disorders, such as those related to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or opioid painkillers, are risk factors that increase rates of heroin use disorders. The CDC writes that in 2013, of those who used heroin the year prior, 96 percent had used, at minimum, one other drug. A shocking 61 percent actually used three or more.

How Is Heroin Abuse Linked to Prescription Painkiller Abuse?

Heroin abuse is believed to be linked to prescription opioid painkiller abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates, on a national scale, that “nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.” Many heroin users also struggle with an opioid painkiller use disorder. In the period between 2011 and 2013, these rates rose to exceed those of heroin use disorders linked to alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine.

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Additionally, as sourced from the CDC, Columbia, and NIDA:

  • 45 percent of heroin abusers suffer from a prescription opioid painkiller addiction.
  • Roughly 45 percent of young heroin injection drug users claimed they abused painkillers prior to abusing heroin.
  • The risk of using heroin is 19 times greater for those who misused a painkiller, based on information from 2002 to 2012.
  • The number of heroin users who had an opioid painkiller use disorder in 2011 through 2013 rose over two times from what they were between 2002 and 2004 (45.2 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively).

Experts theorize this shift occurs due to fact that heroin is often cheaper than painkillers, and in many cases, easier to obtain. To put this in context, CNN details that a 60-milligram opioid pain medication costs about 60 dollars, whereas a comparable quantity of heroin costs roughly 10 percent of this.

As reported by Columbia, heroin is increasingly becoming acceptable and less stigmatized to white, suburban and rural drug users, due to the way its effects resemble painkillers. Within this demographic, from 2001 to 2002, roughly a third of heroin abusers (36 percent) started first by abusing painkillers. From 2012 to 2013, the number exceeded half (53 percent).

Who Abuses Heroin?

While perceptions surrounding heroin use have greatly shifted, far too many people mistakenly think that this drug’s dangers are far removed from their life. It’s this ill-founded perspective that prevents some individuals from acknowledging the risk of heroin abuse within the life of a loved one. The stark reality is that drug abuse and addiction can happen to anyone, from any walk of life, at any point in their life.

This truth is illuminated by Columbia, which found that “increases were greatest among males, whites, those with low income and little education, and for heroin use disorder, in younger individuals.” The CDC notes that use within young people aged 18-25 has rose more than two times over the past decade.

How Common Are Heroin Overdoses?

With rising rates of heroin abuse comes a greater threat to American’s lives. Like heroin abuse, the scope of heroin overdoses have widened. According to U.S. News & World Report, in 2000, older, black Americans aged 45 to 64 faced the most heroin-related overdose deaths. By 2015, white individuals aged 18 to 44 witnessed the greatest number of these fatalities.

In this year, there was a 6.2-fold increase in the number of deaths from heroin, when compared to 2002, as portrayed by a graph published by NIDA. Males consistently overdosed at significantly higher rates than females during this period.

Another CDC publication expounds on the impact of polydrug abuse, writing that one or more drugs were present in 59 percent of heroin-related overdose deaths in 2013.

How Does Heroin Abuse Affect Children And Youth?

The CBHSQ Report documented that in 2013 the number of new heroin users age 12 to 17 totaled 21,000. It also found that within this age group the number of adolescents who fought heroin abuse or dependence remained fairly steady since 2002.

The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey focused on drug use and the perceptions surrounding it within 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students. In respect to heroin, its findings were encouraging. At the height of heroin use:

  • 1.6 percent of 8th graders used in 1996
  • 1.7 percent of 10th graders used in the years 1997-1999
  • 1.5 percent of 12th graders used in 2000

In comparison to these years, in 2016, all three age brackets were at the lowest since 1991, at 0.3 percent. Injection drug use was also lowest at this time.

On another brighter note, principal investigator of the MTF, Lloyd Johnston, asserts that “among secondary school students, at least, there is no evidence of heroin coming to substitute for prescription narcotic drugs.”

Other findings published by NIDA suggest that as young people age, the risks of heroin abuse may increase. This research presents figures on individuals aged 15 to 24, from 1999 to 2015. In 2015, national heroin overdose deaths were over eight times what they were in 1999. More specifically, from 2015 to 1999, the rate of overdose deaths for:

  • Females were roughly 12.5 times higher.
  • Males were roughly 7.3 times higher.

Despite the fact that overdose rates rose for females, males consistently accounted for a greater number of the total deaths. In 1999, roughly 8 out 10 were male victims, and in 2015, 7 out of 10 were.

Get Help Today

Heroin abuse can quickly accelerate into addiction. If you’d like more information on a heroin use disorder or individualized treatment options, let us help you. Heroin addiction shouldn’t be dealt with on your own. can help you find a good program that offers detox and treatment. Contact us today.

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention - Today’s Heroin Epidemic

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention - Vital Signs: Demographic and Substance Use Trends Among Heroin Users — United States, 2002–2013

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health - Heroin Use Rises Significantly Among Young Whites

National Institute on Drug Abuse - How is heroin linked to prescription drug abuse?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription Opioids and Heroin

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