How Bad is Heroin Use in America?

The Scope of Heroin Use and Addiction in the USA

Heroin is a drug made from morphine, which puts it in the opiate class. Like many other opioid drugs, heroin use, abuse and addiction is on the rise in the United States. Although most people acknowledge that there is a heroin problem in America, it is important to understand the true scope of this overwhelming epidemic.

Heroin Addiction by the Numbers

In order to truly understand the scale of heroin use in United States, it is important to look at the numbers themselves. Every year, more than 669,000 Americans use heroin. While not every user becomes an addict, a very significant percentage will become addicted in the future.

Also key is the fact that new users are continually turning to heroin. In fact, as many as 156,000 Americans try heroin for the first time every year. This number is perhaps the most worrying, because it means that an increasing number of people are putting themselves at risk for both the short-term effects of heroin use and the long-term effects of a potential heroin addiction.

Annual Heroin Overdoses and Fatalities

Heroin users are particularly prone to overdoses because the drug potency can vary so much from one supplier to the next. Heroin may be cut with other dangerous substances, and it is also often combined with other drugs or with alcohol consumption. This increases the likelihood of an overdose as well as the chance for that overdose to become a fatality.

Studies show that as many as 13,000 individuals die every year as a result of a heroin overdose. Part of that problem is that with addiction to heroin comes an increase in tolerance. Users may rely on ever growing amounts of heroin for the same high. Unfortunately, greater amounts of heroin also increase the chance of an overdose.

Sadly, many individuals overdose from heroin and die before they can receive emergency treatment. This may be because they are alone, or it may be because their companions are also under the influence of heroin or are afraid to report the overdose to emergency medical or police authorities.

How Heroin Gets to America

A large portion of the heroin consumed within America comes through the nation’s southern border with Mexico. Some of that heroin is produced within Mexico, although much originates even further south in places like Columbia. However, it is important to note that heroin also arrives in America from Canada, and it can even be shipped in from places like Europe or Afghanistan.

Once heroin makes it to the United States, it often heads to major cities like Miami, Chicago, Detroit and New York City. It can also be prevalent in towns closest to the Mexican border, simply because accessibility is so high in these areas.

The amount of heroin being stopped and confiscated at American borders is on the rise. Just between 2000 and 2013, for example, seizures at international borders quadrupled. This is a good thing, since it keeps those drugs off the streets, but it also hints at increasing amounts of heroin being brought to America in the first place.

The Dangerous Effects of Heroin Use

Whether heroin users are American or not, they will likely suffer from a number of short term and long term effects. After a single use of heroin, individuals may develop a dry mouth, flushed skin, unconsciousness or mental confusion.

Heroin addiction brings with it all of the problems above, but it also includes additional severe symptoms. Common side effects of chronic heroin use may include all of the following:

  • Constipation
  • Collapsed veins
  • Pneumonia
  • Infection of the heart’s lining
  • Abscesses

Exploring the Addictive Nature of Heroin

Many substances can be addictive, but heroin stands out as one of the world’s most addictive drugs. This addiction is more than just a physical dependence, because it has the potential to alter the chemical makeup and behavior of the brain itself.

Heroin can disrupt and damage the way that the pleasure and reward systems of the brain operate. Heroin can quickly become the only thing the brain recognizes as a source of pleasure. Once this happens, it is impossible to find pleasure from things like food, friendship or exercise unless medical treatment and professional rehabilitation is considered. Essentially, heroin abuse rewires the brain, meaning that addiction happens faster and more frequently than with other drugs and substances.

Heroin as Part of a Larger Opioid Epidemic

It would be a mistake to look at the heroin epidemic in America and not mention the even bigger opioid epidemic at the same time. The two are inextricably linked, and often one addiction feeds the next.

Over 45 percent of heroin addicts in the United States previously had an addiction to an opioid prescription medication. If these medications are no longer available, or affordable, then many individuals turn to heroin. Often, heroin is cheaper and more accessible for purchase outside of the medical world.

If heroin addiction is to be addressed in the United States, then the overprescription of Americans is also important to address. By reducing the sheer number of prescription painkillers and other opioid pills in the country, there may be fewer people that become addicted. This, in turn, may result in fewer individuals who turn to heroin because of their addiction.

Treating Heroin Addiction in America

Whether discussing heroin addiction for an individual or for the country as a whole, there are two key tenets–education and treatment. Education means helping individuals understand the risks of heroin, but also teaching doctors and patients to safely prescribe and take opioid prescription drugs.

Treatment is all about recognizing that heroin addiction is a disease that requires professional medical attention. It is only through proper addiction treatment that individuals struggling with addiction can begin an effective course of recovery.

There is no doubt that there is a heroin problem in America. Heroin use is serious and epidemic. Education and treatment are critical to fighting the larger opioid epidemic in the country and around the world.