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Heroin use reaches all-time high in U.S.

Posted on 11-09-16 in Advocacy, Substance Abuse

Heroin use reaches all-time high in U.S.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report 2016 addresses global emerging and persistent issues related to drugs. Globally, over 29 million individuals have a drug use disorder, yet only 1 in 6 of these individuals receive substance abuse treatment, according to this report. About 207,000 drug-related deaths occurred in 2014, most of which were due to heroin and prescription painkillers.

Heroin use affecting younger populations

Particularly in the United States, there has been a sharp increase in heroin use. Overdose deaths related to heroin and prescription opioid medications were a record high in 2014. Although the opioid problem in the United States should not come as a surprise to most people, there remains a need to address the issues related to opioid abuse, including drug overdose deaths and addiction, which contribute to significant morbidity and mortality worldwide.

In the United States, individuals aged 18 to 25 years now have the highest frequency of prescription opioid and heroin use reported in the past year compared to other subgroups. Those ages 18 to 25 were also more likely to become dependent on heroin, to take prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons, and to inject heroin. The World Drug Report 2016 also indicated that drug-related mortality was the highest in North America, accounting for one-fourth of all drug-related deaths worldwide.

Need for treatment for substance use disorders

The need for treatment for those with substance use disorders, including heroin and opioid use disorders, has been a major concern in the United States. Earlier this year, President Obama made it clear that tackling the opioid epidemic in the country was one of his top priorities as he asked for $1.1 billion in funding to reduce opioid abuse and drug overdose deaths throughout the country by providing treatment for substance use disorders, expanding the availability of naltrexone to reduce opioid overdose deaths and increase the number of other intervention and prevention strategies to people with substance use disorders.

How does supply and demand influence drug trends?

According to a CBS news article, the crackdown on prescription drugs may have something to do with the rise in heroin use in recent years. The reduced supply of prescription opioids and high demand for opiates has driven an increase in heroin coming in from other countries. According to the World Drug Report 2016, a number of other factors can also influence the use of heroin, including:

  • Cost
  • Drug purity
  • Changes in the availability and accessibility of the drug
  • Abuse-deterrent technologies for prescription drugs
  • Making more programs for prescription drug monitoring available
  • Greater regulations to address prescribing practices
  • Providing education to the public, policymakers and mental health care providers and physicians who prescribe drugs

Short- and long-term consequences of heroin use

Aside from the high risk of fatal and nonfatal overdoses associated with opioids, the injection of heroin is a major risk factor for transmitting and acquiring infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C, as these infections can be easily transmitted via blood. Of the 12 million people worldwide who are estimated to inject drugs, 6 million are living with hepatitis C and another 1.6 million people are living with HIV. These individuals are at a greater risk for premature death and often lack access to adequate medical care, which can further exacerbate these health conditions.

Heroin and prescription opioid medication misuse can have devastating consequences on individuals, their families and communities. Addiction expert Scott Krakower, an assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York told CBS News that addiction treatment facilities should offer treatment options for people with mental health problems in addition to their substance use problems.

As a leading provider of behavioral health treatment services, Sovereign Health provides comprehensive opioid abuse treatment. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn more.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at