How Heroin Use and Addiction Became the American Epidemic

Erasing Addiction

Heroin use, addiction and overdose has surged throughout the U.S. over the last decade — and the drug’s resurgence is closely linked with the country’s ongoing prescription drug epidemic, federal health officials announced on Tuesday, July 7.

According to the LA Times, new data revealed that nearly 2.6 out of every 1,000 Americans aged 12 and over used heroin between 2011 and 2013. While that number may seem insignificant, it’s a stunning 63% increase in heroin use since the years 2002 to 2004.

The rate of heroin abuse and dependence rose 90% during the same time period, the study, conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), revealed.

Even more troublingly, deaths resulting from heroin overdose nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. In 2013, 8,257 Americans died from heroin overdose.

All told, more than half a million people across the country used heroin in 2013 — an increase of more than 150% since 2007.

While lower-class men in urban areas continue to be the hardest-hit group in the heroin epidemic, use of the drug rose across all demographics. Young adults aged 18 to 25 continue to be the most dominant group of heroin users. Women and people with higher incomes are more likely to use heroin today, as well — two groups that have also been at the center of the rise in prescription drug abuse.

While heroin — also called diacetylmorphine or diamorphine — dates back as far as 1874, when a British chemist working for Bayer A.G. first synthesized the drug as an allegedly non-addictive pain reliever, use of this drug has waxed and waned over the last 150 years or so.

Throughout the last decade, heroin has become more available and more affordable, which has resulted in the upswing in use. Heroin is now up to five times cheaper than many prescription opiates such as morphine, making it an attractive alternative for people with prescription drug addiction, Quartz reported.

“As a doctor who started my career taking care of patients with HIV and other complications from injection drugs, it’s heartbreaking to see injection drug use making a comeback in the U.S.,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement.

While there’s certainly no easy solution for this epidemic, Frieden called for more severe crackdowns on heroin manufacture and sale, and improved treatment options for people with opiate addictions, as well as widespread reform in the way opioid painkillers are prescribed.

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