According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin use has increased in the United States at a phenomenal rate. What is interesting is that its use is increasing among individuals who historically had relatively low rates of drug use. These include women, individuals with higher income, and people who have private insurance. What makes this concern is not just the heroin use, but the fact that these individuals are using heroin along with other illicit substances. They are using heroin in addiction to prescription drugs and cocaine. Between 2002 and 2013, overdose deaths quadrupled in the United States. In just one year, more than 8,200 people died from a heroin-related overdose.
A lot of discussions have taken place as to why it is becoming common to see more heroin use in affluent communities and women. Most of these studies show one thing, prescription drugs: a gateway to heroin. Report after report shows that individuals who have the highest chance of being addicted to heroin are those who received some form of prescription opiate pain killer. These are individuals who went to the doctor and were prescribed painkillers to deal with a legitimate injury or the aftermath of surgery. However, once the prescription ran out, they were left with the addiction.
People try to play the prescription system to get the drugs that they need. They will visit multiple doctors, go to multiple pharmacies, use their friend’s prescriptions, and do a whole host of things to get access to the drug. When they have tapped all of their resources, they are introduced to heroin.
Quickly they find that it is less expensive to purchase heroin, the effects of heroin are as powerful if not more powerful than the prescription drugs they were taking, and heroin is easily accessible.
How Harmful Is Heroin?
Let’s be clear; heroin is a hazardous drug. It’s legal because it’s highly addictive. When a person overdoses on heroin, their breathing slows down and becomes very shallow. Eventually, they fall into a coma, which can end in fatality. Heroin is frequently used in conjunction with other drugs or with alcohol, and this creates a very dangerous environment that increases the risk of overdose.
A person can get the effects of heroin by smoking it, snorting it, or as the majority of heroin users do, injecting it. This opens the door to whole new risk factors that include getting a viral infection like hepatitis B or C or even HIV. Individuals who use dirty needles for heroin have bloodstream infections, infections in their hearts, and even infections that affect their skin.
Increased Heroin Use Is Just Part of the Problem
Statistics have shown that increased heroin use is just a part of an overall problem that is facing the United States. Individuals who use heroin are also using other drugs. The CDC says that individuals who use alcohol are two times as likely to use heroin. Marijuana users are three times as likely, cocaine users 15 times as likely, and prescription opiate pain killer users 40 times as likely to be addicted to heroin than those who do not use the substance.
Looking for Recovery Options
As heroin use is starting to affect a broader portion of the population, people’s perception of users is changing. Gone are the days of referring to heroin addicts as junkies. Instead, they are now being referred to as victims and infirmed individuals needing help.
This is good because time and time again research has shown that rehab and recovery are more effective at getting people off drugs than is incarceration and punishment. As society as a whole is building more faith in recovery, more initiatives are being made to make recovery options more available to the general public.
Scientists now better understand the connection between drug addiction and changes in the makeup of the brain. It is becoming clear that drug addiction and the inability to break free from drugs is not the sign of a person who has a weak will. Instead, it is a sign of a person who is dealing with a disease that is as real as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
Effective heroin rehab requires addressing the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. It requires helping the addicted person to change the way they interact with the challenges they have in their life. It requires helping them create a strong support structure and a safe environment that is conducive to long-term recovery.
Heroin has taken its toll on the United States for decades. Now, more programs are in place to confront the heroin epidemic and help more people on the road to recovery.