Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Opioids are driving this national tragedy, with nearly 19,000 overdose deaths related to pain relievers and more than 10,500 related to heroin in 2014 alone. Four out of five heroin users began with prescription painkillers. As the rate of opioid abuse continues to escalate, so does the rate of heroin abuse. Today, the country is experiencing a frightening surge in opioid abuse and overdose deaths.
People Using Heroin the Most
Heroin use has increased across nearly every demographic group. Surprisingly, the groups that traditionally were the least likely to use heroin – women, people with higher incomes, and the privately insured – have seen the greatest increases. High school students, especially seniors, are at a greater risk of abusing opioids and heroin than ever, with 12.4% of seniors admitting to lifetime nonmedical opioid use. According to surveys, Caucasian high school students were more likely to report nonmedical opioid and heroin use than African American and Latino students were. However, Caucasian students were less likely than the other two groups to use heroin without nonmedical opioid use.
People between the ages of 18 and 25 are most at risk of heroin addiction. Heroin use among this age bracket has more than doubled in the last 10 years. This increase may be attributable to the easy access of prescription painkillers and heroin, as well as heroin’s lower cost. As more young people misuse prescription opioids with the impression that they are safer than illicit drugs, the number of heroin users likewise escalates. Other risk factors for heroin abuse include:
- Prescription painkiller addiction
- Cocaine addiction
- Alcohol addiction
- Lack of insurance or Medicaid
- Living in a large metropolitan region
- Male non-Hispanic demographic
Urban areas still have the highest rates of heroin abuse, but rural communities are quickly catching up. The influx in heroin and opioid abusers in rural areas across America has led policymakers to try to make addiction treatment centers more easily available to citizens who live far away from the nearest metropolitan help center.
Areas With The Most Rampant Heroin Use
The Midwest has seen the most drastic increase in heroin abuse, closely rivaled by the Northeast. Nearly every state has experienced a rise in heroin use in the last decade, but some states are seeing higher rates of abuse than others are. Ten states saw drug overdose death rates that exceeded 20 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 – the highest year on record for the number of overdose deaths – the top three of which were West Virginia, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. West Virginia had 35 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, an increase of 437% since 2004.
Death Toll And Other Costs
An estimated 467,000 people are currently addicted to heroin in the United States. The consequences of this significant issue are immense and devastating. The number of accidental overdose deaths has more than quadrupled since 1999, resulting in an unquantifiable loss in premature deaths. The U.S. takes a hit for lost productivity costs, health care costs, unemployment, crime rates, homelessness, and treatment center costs. The estimated annual cost to American of all drug abuse is $786 billion.
Heroin use also affects unborn children, leading to an increase in societal medical costs. Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) greatly increases the length of a newborn’s hospital stay, from an average of 2.1 days to 16.9 days. This increases the cost of birth from $3,500 on average to $66,700 per child born with NAS. While NAS typically does not have lasting health effects, babies born with drug dependencies have to undergo the painful symptoms of withdrawal, just as an adult would.
The Future Of America’s Heroin Epidemic
The issue of substance abuse in America involves many facets of public policy, including border security, the criminal justice system, and health care regulations. The federal government provides educational training to health care providers so they prescribe the appropriate amount of painkillers. Providers must also educate patients on the risks of becoming addicted to prescription opioids and their use as gateway drugs for heroin and other substances.
Increasing access to treatment centers is a top priority, as there is currently a deficit between the number of beds available and the number of addicts seeking treatment. Researchers need more funding to create pain medications that are less prone to addiction and create treatments for heroin addictions that are more effective.