Heroin Abuse

The United States has witnessed a drastic rise in the number of citizens currently engaging in heroin abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has indicated that in 2012, approximately 669,000 people admitted to using heroin within the past year. The number of people who admitted trying heroin for the first time in 2012 totaled 156,000, nearly double the amount in 2006 of 90,000 individuals. What has caused this disturbing and unreasonable explosion of heroin use in the US?

Why is Heroin Abuse on the Rise?

Comparatively speaking, heroin abuse is still relatively rare. For example, approximately 19 million people use marijuana every year, compared to the approximate half a million heroin users. Due to this disparity, some people may not consider the increase in heroin usage alarming. However, the rate of increase in use is rising extremely quickly. Also, heroin is considered to be one of the most addictive and dangerous illicit drugs available. Many users die of accidental overdoses, and withdrawals can also be fatal. Why are so many people choosing to use such an obviously dangerous drug?

Low Cost

Heroin is a relatively cheap and easy drug to procure. The US has enacted stricter rules and regulations surrounding prescription opiate painkiller pills, leaving many prescription pill junkies nowhere to turn for their next fix. The street value of prescription painkillers has increased drastically due to these new laws, driving opiate addicts to satisfy their craving by other means. Rather than face the intolerable withdrawals, many present-day heroin users have made the switch from pills. Heroin provides a strikingly similar high to prescription opiates, but at a fraction of the cost.

Easy Access

The DEA cites an uptick in Mexican drug smuggling activities as a primary reason for the increased ease of access to heroin. As previously stated, prescription painkillers have come under stricter regulation. Unfortunately, those who abuse opiates still struggle with addiction, even as they lose access to pills. A cheap and easy hustle means addicts pursue their high of choice with a voracious appetite, further feeding the chain of supply and demand for heroin.

Potency

One of the biggest dangers surrounding heroin abuse is its unknown potency. Pill users are able to monitor their intake, always knowing the dosage and contents of the drugs they are abusing. However, different batches of heroin vary greatly in strength and purity. Heroin is often mixed with other substances that can greatly increase a user’s chance of overdose. For many addicts, this is part of their deadly love affair with the drug. Users quickly develop a tolerance to opiates, leaving them “chasing the dragon”; consuming more heroin each time in an attempt to recreate their initial high. Their self-destructive lust for the ultimate high tempts them to seek out dangerously laced heroin. It’s common for hardcore heroin users to seek out batches of drugs that have caused overdoses in other users, believing the potency will provide them an unparalleled high.

Highly Addictive

Heroin use is associated with a high rate of addiction. One dose holds the addictive potential to start an individual on a lifelong journey of opiate addiction. Unfortunately, an opiate addiction is extremely difficult to recover from. Those who abuse opiates experience a high rate of relapse. Inpatient treatment is almost always a necessary step for addicts to take on the road to recovery. Important components of inpatient treatment that heroin addicts need to to receive are:

  • Medically supervised and assisted detox
  • Addiction therapy
  • Extended follow-up care
  • Personal therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy

The length of inpatient treatment depends upon individual circumstances and needs. However, it is important to receive medical attention during the physical detox from heroin. Studies show that people who successfully complete a treatment program experience a much lower risk of relapse.

How to Stop the Rising Rate of Heroin Abuse

Substance abuse is a systemic social issue that is rooted within dysfunctional community, family and personal dynamics. There is no panacea for such a complicated problem, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce heroin abuse. Education is an extremely powerful tool. Fact-based information should be widely disseminated across varying venues to reach at-risk demographics. Prevention is the best strategy when seeking to end social problems. By investing in the proper utilization of research-based prevention programs, cultural perceptions surrounding drug use can be effectively changed. Harm reduction techniques must be explored in regards to ineffective drug policies. With heroin use on the rise, it is clear that current drug laws are harming the state of public health. As a society, we must realize that we will never be completely drug free. By taking a compassionate and innovative approach to reducing drug abuse and improving treatment and policies, we can hope to mitigate public and personal harm as much as possible.

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