25 Mar Heroin Addiction Reaches the Middle Class
Heroin, the illegal narcotic once confined to the inner-city, has now reached the suburbs. Heroin use in the United States increased 75 percent between 2007 and 2011, and a huge jump in heroin use among the middle class is largely responsible for this growth.
Prescription painkiller abuse has become a common pathway to heroin use and addiction. Some people who become addicted to prescription opiates, such as OxyContin, switch to heroin because the illegal opiate is much cheaper. Those who began taking painkillers for a legitimate therapeutic purpose may also find it much easier to obtain heroin than prescription pills once their prescriptions have run out.
The number of heroin users nationwide rose from 239,000 to 335,000 between 2010 and 2012, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. At the same time, the number of people abusing OxyContin dropped from 566,000 to 358,000.
Unfortunately, actions on the part of OxyContin’s manufacturers that were intended to fight drug abuse have contributed to the resurgence of heroin. Several years ago, OxyContin pills were reformulated to make them more difficult to break down. Now, the pills begin to gel when they are crushed, which makes it challenging to inject or to smoke them. Unfortunately, these changes have largely resulted in drug users switching to heroin rather than giving up their habit.
Heroin Demographics Shift
During its heyday in the 1970s, heroin use figures were high, but use of the drug was also relatively concentrated. Heroin users tended to be poor inner-city dwellers, they were often people of color, and their average age was 28 to 30. The recent resurgence of heroin has spread through a different population. Today’s users tend to be predominantly middle class and white, and many of them are teenagers. Dealers have responded to the shift in their customer base, giving their product clever brand names that reflect the middle class, such as iPhone and Government Shutdown.
But despite its middle class makeover, heroin remains as dangerous as ever. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have been steadily increasing since 1992, and drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in this country. Heroin also comes with a tremendous risk of addiction. Those who begin using heroin after abusing prescription painkillers are likely already dealing with an addiction, but those who are not can become addicted to heroin after using only once.
Facing New Risks
Heroin users who began with prescription drugs encounter new risks when they switch to the street drug. Those who use needles to inject the drug may not know how to properly prepare, dilute and inject the drug if they do not have experience. In addiction, they may expose themselves to disease if they share their needles with others.
They also face a certain amount of mystery when it comes to exact nature of the drugs they are purchasing from street dealers. There is no quality control on the streets, and heroin is often laced with other substances. Dealers are increasingly adding even more powerful opiates such as fentanyl to their product. Exposure to the stronger substance helps dealers to ensure that their buyers remain addicted, but it can also increase the likelihood of accidental overdose. In January 2014, 22 deaths in western Pennsylvania were linked to heroin that had been laced with fentanyl.
Cost of Heroin
Many former prescription drug users turn to heroin because it is cheaper and more accessible. However, this does not mean that a heroin habit is cheap. Heroin dependents can spend $150 to $200 per day to maintain their habit. Addictions also become more expensive over time, as users develop tolerance and have to use greater amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect.
There are often medical costs associated with heroin use as well. Heroin was a known factor in 213,118 emergency department visits in 2009, which can cost patients thousands of dollars. Treatment programs for drug addiction can also be very expensive, placing users between a rock and a hard place as they choose between the cost of recovery and the many risks and consequences of failing to address their addiction.
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