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Why is Use of Heroin Across the Country Increasing?
There are more Americans today struggling with a heroin addiction. People who may start with alcohol may gradually transition towards prescription pain medication to get an easy buzz. The specific type of pain medication is often opioids, a drug not unlike the next drug in the slippery slope heroin. Despite the fact that most of these individuals would never expect that they would end up injecting or snorting this dangerous narcotic, it has become a reality for more and more Americans. The low cost and increased number of people struggling with a prescription medication addiction is making heroin a choice for many a choice that they would have never made just a few short years ago.
The truth is that heroin has been a dangerous drug for a long time. However, it has become increasingly popular in recent years. So much so that almost 700,000 Americans over the age of 12 had used this narcotic at some point in the last 12 months. When we look at the number of people who consider themselves dependent on the drug, it is almost double the number from 2002. Officials are also concerned that the actual number may be much higher, especially because there is still a stigma associated with the use of this dangerous narcotic. While users are not afraid to admit they have tried cocaine or OxyContin to get high, heroin remains one of the taboo subjects.
Rehab facilities and law enforcement officials are saying that they have never experienced the type of heroin influx that has become commonplace in the last 24 months. Despite the fact that officials are unsure that it would qualify as an epidemic they are certain that it will eventually reach that level. The reason why people assume that this problem may become an epidemic is because we have a good understanding of what is actually driving the increase in use. We will explore a number of different reasons.
It is Cheap
The first problem is that we have seen a dramatic increase of people who abuse prescription medication such as OxyContin in the last two decades. People love this pain reliever, but most have a problem they are unable to pay for it any longer. The truth is that when the drug became scarce and healthcare officials made it harder to obtain, the price skyrocketed almost instantly. This left people with a desperate need for the drug, but without the ability to pay for it. Heroin was there to offer them the same relief, but at only a fraction of the cost. Most people are going to start out snorting the substance, because very few users are going to use intravenously the first time. However, in order to make sure that they get the most from their purchase, the majority of the abusers are eventually going to shoot (inject) the narcotic.
It is Widely Available
People may have started on oxycodone; that may be their primary drug of choice, but it has limited availability and comes at a high price. If the user cannot pay for their substance of choice right that moment or is unable to find it, heroin is there to pick up the slack again. There are reports of drug dealers handing out the narcotic in order to get people dependent on it. Once people become hooked on the substance, the price suddenly drastically increases. The DEA believes that Mexican cartels are not only producing more than ever before, they are also expanding into new markets.
It is Extremely Potent
Despite the fact that heroin is often used as a substitute by prescription medication users, there is no way to regulate the dosage. The purity is also unknown. The same dealer may have far purer heroin one day than the next. Because of the discrepancy in purity and the inability to know how much people are using at any given point, it could lead to fatal overdoses. In fact, 22 people died in western Pennsylvania not too long ago because their heroin was mixed with fentanyl, a far more potent drug. Because the abusers were unaware of the increased strength of what they were using, they decided to ingest the same amount as before. Suddenly what was once enough to get them high now suddenly was enough to cause a fatal overdose without them even realizing it until it was too late.
It is Difficult to Withdraw From
Phillip Seymour Hoffman provides a perfect example of this truth. He admitted that he was able to live a clean, sober life for 23 years before relapsing again. The substance that made him relapse was prescription pain medication, the same medications that are causing similar issues for many people throughout the country. Without long-term planning and without being acutely aware of the problem, drug addiction is incredibly difficult to overcome.
What Can We Do?
The truth is that the problem is already in motion and it is not going to stop on its own. With the drastic increase in opioid medication abuse in the last decade, we can expect that a large number of people will eventually switch over to heroin to provide relief from the horrible withdrawal symptoms that they are going through. There is no way to stop this from happening, if law enforcement officials were somehow able to ban the narcotic altogether, the people dependent on it would switch to something else. What we can do is offer help to those people struggling with addiction. To help them move towards a sober life instead of putting them in jail or forcing them to decide between one of the most dangerous drugs in the world or having to struggle with aches and pain throughout their body. If we focus on prevention and treatment rather than punishment, it would be possible to stop the dramatic shift towards heroin abuse. Without it, chances are that we are going to see the number of people who abuse the narcotic, increase as the years go by.