Rates of heroin abuse are rising steadily in America, prompting some states to declare its usage as a public health emergency. The increase in heroin usage is primarily due to high rates of abuse of prescription opiate painkillers, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin or morphine. There is no easy solution to help people quit heroin, but educating the public about heroin abuse is an important part of prevention and treatment.
Fact #1 – Heroin Overdoses Kill More Americans Than Any Other Type of Accident
Up until 2009, the leading cause of accidental death in America was from car crash fatalities. However, death by accidental drug overdose has now eclipsed car crashes as the leading killer of American adults.
Heroin and other opiates are the most common drug that people overdose on, and these substances are responsible for nearly 40,000 deaths annually. This is a death toll that keeps increasing every year.
Fact #2 – Heroin Users Could be Your Next Door Neighbors
Many people imagine that heroin addicts are destitute, penniless and driven to a life of crime in order to fund their drug addiction. However, the profile of a modern heroin user is quite the opposite. This drug has moved out of the inner-city and has now taken up residence in more affluent neighborhoods. In fact, the average heroin addict is:
- In their early to mid 20’s
- A suburban resident
Although heroin use first sprang out of poorer, urban neighborhoods, it is now everywhere and used by people who do not fit the stereotypical profile a hardcore drug user.
Fact #3 – Heroin Isn’t the Drug of Choice for Most Addicts
Most people who are now addicted to heroin did not originally seek it out as their choicest drug. As the demographics of a typical user have shifted to higher income individuals, the reasons that people have started using heroin have also changed.
A recent study discovered that over 1/3 of heroin users began to seek out this street opiate only after they had become hooked on prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin.
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The street price of one prescription opiate pill can run as high as $80, whereas a dose of heroin can be had for as little as $10.
Once an addict’s consumption has spiraled out of control due to developing a high tolerance for opiates, it is no longer financially sustainable to keep consuming pills. Thus, heroin is often turned to out of financial necessity and because of increased ease of access to the drug.
Fact #4 – Heroin Use Decreases Brain Matter
Although most people are aware of the short-term health consequences and dangers surrounding heroin abuse, the long-term health consequences are less well known. Due to the painful and dramatic nature of withdrawals, most attention is focused upon getting people through this difficult period with less focus on chronic problems that may have developed due to heroin abuse.
- Decreases in the brain’s amount of white matter
- Hormonal imbalances
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Difficulty with critical thinking and decision-making
- Memory loss
Fact #5 – Heroin Can be Deadly Long After Detox
Heroin doesn’t just eat away at an addict’s brain, it also causes many chronic and potentially fatal health consequences as well. Some of these side effects include:
- Digestive problems
- Liver diseases, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis
- Kidney problems
- Collapsed veins
- Infections of the heart and its valves
- Blood clots
Fact #6 – Heroin Drastically Reduces a User’s Lifespan
Even if an addict has completed detox and rehab, heroin still continues to exert its life-destroying effects upon former users. In fact, a typical heroin user may expect to live about 18 years less than a person who has not abused this drug. Sadly, the chronic health problems that heroin causes can shorten a recovered individual’s lifespan, whereas active users are likely to pass away from overdose or a drug-related accident.
Fact #7 – Heroin is Overloading Hospitals and Emergency Rooms
Heroin use is responsible for nearly 10 percent of all drug-related hospital visits. As America is desperately trying to overhaul a broken and over-burdened healthcare system, the following facts are creating higher costs and huge workloads for healthcare professionals:
- An increase in illicit drug-related ER admissions has risen over 98 percent in the past decade
- Of this increase, almost a quarter of a million patients were seen for heroin-related complications
- Drug-related ER admissions cost an estimated $4.5 million annually
Fact #8 – Heroin is a Leading Cause of New HIV Infections
When HIV first appeared in the 1980’s, public education focused on sharing information about safer sex practices in order to help stop the wave of infection. However, drug users that share dirty needles are always at a high risk for contracting this deadly virus. Consider these disturbing facts concerning heroin and the spread of HIV:
- Nearly half of all heroin users who test positive for HIV are unaware of their status
- Almost 10 percent of new HIV infections are due to needle-sharing heroin users
- Over half of all heroin addicts have admitted to sharing needles at some point
Fact #9 – Heroin is Responsible for Huge Public Safety Costs
The trafficking, dealing and usage of heroin creates high costs within the public sector, including law enforcement, emergency services and social outreach programs:
- Over $100 billion is spent annually on enforcing drug laws
- An estimated $3 billion is needed for treatment services to address drug abuse issues, of which only a fraction is available
The illegal drug trade makes billions of dollars per year, and society as a whole is responsible for picking up the tab of this underground economy’s criminal acts, health problems and drug-related violence.
Fact #10 – Heroin is Damaging the Economy
Heroin users are damaging the American economy by coming to work high, creating workplace hazards and by generally being non-productive. Some estimated annual heroin-related effects to the economy are:
- Losses of at least $11.5 billion from worker non-productivity
- $25.5 billion in lost wages, accidents and training costs needed in order to replace drug-addicted workers
- An 82 percent rise in workers testing positive for heroin
Heroin use affects everyone, regardless of how many people are abusing this drug. High costs to the public sector, overworked hospitals and accidental deaths should be of concern to everyone. Only with increased public awareness, a focus on accessible treatment and support for those in recovery can we hope to stop the ever-growing numbers of people who abuse heroin. It’s time to get the American people to quit heroin, but this is no easy task.