Behind the Crisis: The Deadly Explosion of Heroin in America

More Americans are dying from heroin drug-poisonings than ever before.

Not only that, but the number of deaths caused by the illegal drug now surpasses those from car accidents.

Who is affected?

Nationally, heroin-related deaths have increased four times over between 2000 and 2013. In 2013, the rate of death for men, from heroin use, were nearly four times higher than for women.

heroin-overdose-deathsChart from The National Institute of Drug Abuse

No one is safe from the deadly effects of heroin. Deaths related to the illicit drug have risen across ages, races and ethnicities. The surge in the mortality rates from 2000 through 2013 reaches across the entire United States.

However, according to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the whole country.

Why is heroin so popular?

The spike in heroin use is connected to the price of prescription pain relievers. If the price of this medication, prescribed by physicians, goes up, heroin becomes an appealing alternative. Heroin provides similar effects. It’s also cheap and readily available — which means heroin use is becoming a disturbing trend.

Heroin is an opioid. The narcotic is a painkilling drug produced synthetically or from opium. Other opioids are codeine, morphine, oxycodone and methadone. Heroin, like other opiates, is a depressant, which slows down the central nervous system. This results in a reduced sense of physical and psychological pain.

The drug can be smoked, snorted or injected.  Once ingested, the user experiences a ‘rush’ or feelings of euphoria within minutes.

Heroin can also cause the user to experience:

  • Incoherent speech
  • Attention and memory problems
  • Small pupils
  • Limited awareness to people and things nearby
  • Coordination issues
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Cold, clammy or sweaty skin
  • Constipation
  • Marks from needles (if drugs are injected)
  • Nose sores or runny nose (if drugs are snorted)

What can be done to combat heroin use?

It’s possible to treat heroin addiction with behavioral therapies and medications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies three areas of focus to bring down the amount of heroin use and related deaths:

  • Prevention
    • Implement effective opioid painkiller prescription processes
    • Identify high-risk individuals before prescriptions are issued
  • Reduction
    • Provide access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
    • Treat heroin addicted people with MAT
    • Administer medications along with behavioral therapies and counseling
  • Reversal
    • Use naloxone, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose, when given in ample time

Meanwhile, the federal government recognizes the seriousness of heroin use across the United States. In late 2015, President Barak Obama and his administration announced they are committed to tackling the problem. They plan to make drug treatment more accessible. They also plan to focus on the developing training programs for doctors who need to prescribe opiate painkillers.

Heroin use and heroin-related deaths are on the rise in the United States. The numbers tell a distressing story — one that will hopefully change for the better with increased awareness of this growing issue.

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About Adrienne 31 Articles
Adrienne is a freelance writer and designer with an endless curiosity about technology, health, and traveling the world. She loves snail mail and taking roadtrips. You can get in touch with her by following @adrienneerin on Twitter or check out her design blog to see more of her work.