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Heroin Abuse: The Unbiased Killer

by Jeffrey Juergens ❘  

The Heroin Epidemic

Over the last year or so, you’ve probably seen news reports about the heroin epidemic in the United States. People all over the US—including those who don’t fit into the “heroin addict” stereotype— are dying of heroin overdoses at an alarming rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released a report confirming what many of us already know to be true:
the heroin problem in America is downright deadly.

According to the CDC’s findings, the heroin overdose death rate quadrupled from 2002 to 2013.

The increased death rate parallels the increase in heroin use, abuse and dependence seen over the past few years. Both rates have increased across all demographic groups as well, raising two key questions: why heroin and why now?

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The New Face of Heroin Addiction

When picturing a heroin addict, most people think of a young man from an underserved population. He’s likely unemployed and living on the streets, stealing and peddling to score his next hit.

Today, picture a suburban soccer mom struggling with this same addiction.

Recent findings help illuminate how heroin has become so commonplace that anyone can become addicted—and clearly, thousands do.

The CDC’s study found that heroin use rates were still the highest among:

  • Males
  • People aged 18-25 years old
  • People with an annual household income of less than $20,000
  • People living in urban areas
  • People without health insurance or Medicaid

However, the greatest increases of use were seen in women and among non-Hispanic whites. In fact, the CDC report showed rates of heroin abuse:

  • Doubled among women
  • Increased across all annual household income levels
  • Increased among those without health insurance and those with private health insurance
  • Increased among people who abuse other drugs, especially prescription painkillers

Basically, it means the typical heroin addict today can be pretty much anyone.

Prescription Painkillers: Stepping Stones to Heroin

Heroin is cheap, especially when compared to the cost of prescription painkillers. Heroin produces the same results as painkillers, making the transition easy for many prescription painkiller addicts. Some of the effects include:

  • A sense of euphoria
  • A higher pain tolerance
  • Slowed breathing and heart function

Many people unknowingly become addicted to painkillers. They take the prescribed medication under their doctor’s recommendation, begin to enjoy the effects of the drugs and keep wanting more — even when the pills and prescription run out. Continued use of prescription painkillers can lead to a physical dependence. Combine that with the psychological need to use the drug and you’ve got an addiction.

Given the staggering number of people struggling with prescription painkiller addiction in the U.S.—approximately 4.7 million—doctors are cracking down when it comes to writing prescriptions. So in some cases, getting more pills after your prescription runs out may not be easy. It can also be extremely expensive if the medication is not covered under by insurance.

Enter: heroin. It’s cheaper, easier to get ahold of and comes in a convenient snortable or injectable package.

The downside? Heroin is super addictive and has some serious side effects, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Extreme slowed breathing that can lead to coma and permanent brain damage
  • The risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis from sharing needles
  • An increased risk of attempting suicide
  • Withdrawal symptoms including depression and other mental conditions
  • Potential death by overdose

Considering the heroin overdose death rate has quadrupled, it’s safe to say the downsides of using this drug are significant.

Beating the Heroin Epidemic

The skyrocketing numbers of use and overdose deaths speak for themselves. The need for education, prevention, intervention and treatment efforts is greater than ever. If we treat addiction like the disease it is and make drug addiction treatment a priority at the federal level, we may have a chance at saving lives.

If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin there is help available. Contact a treatment provider to discuss rehab-related options and treatment program.

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