An increasing focus has been chronicling the addiction epidemic, particularly the heroin epidemic as it’s been referred to by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The following will serve as a concise recounting of the heroin epidemic, explaining how it is that heroin addiction has become such a major problem in the United States as well as some of the things that have been or are being done to curb the ever-growing heroin addiction epidemic.
In the Beginning, There Were Pills
Before heroin became the most-abused drug in the United States—currently behind only alcohol as the most abused substance at present—prescription painkillers, or opiates, were the most prominent substance abuse problem. In fact, sources estimated that more than 80 percent of the opiate painkillers in the world were being used and abused in the United States alone.
Although we know that these substances are dangerous today, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, when OxyContin was put on the market in the 1990s, the fact that there were very few clinical trials behind the drug was misinterpreted as meaning that the drug was safe for patients.
Meanwhile, the companies responsible for OxyContin’s production and distribution were offering incentives to physicians if they prescribed the potent painkiller, contributing to the rapid escalation in the amount of OxyContin and other opiates that were being prescribed to patients.
With such large quantities of opiate painkillers being prescribed, it became incredibly easy to abuse them. Additionally, individuals could go to their doctors, get prescriptions for opiates, and then see another doctor in order to get duplicate prescriptions, allowing them to divert prescription opiates by selling them on the street.
This caused painkillers to be very easily accessible, either by going to the doctor or buying them from individuals selling their prescriptions. In only a short period of time, rates of painkiller addiction skyrocketed. Additionally, from 1999 to the present, the rate of overdose deaths due to painkiller abuse quadrupled.
In response, pharmaceutical companies and public officials sought ways of curbing the alarmingly high rates of painkiller abuse and addiction that had been claiming more and more lives.
The Advent of the Heroin Epidemic
Desperate to curb the rates of opiate painkiller abuse and addiction, pharmaceutical companies change the formulas of the majority of opiates, making them resistant to crushing and other such modifications. Meanwhile, lawmakers instituted a number of policy changes that reformed the way that controlled substances were prescribed and monitored.
More specifically, it became easier to track individuals who were being prescribed opiates, which painkillers they received, how many and how often, and from whom they were receiving them. In effect, officials could flag people who were attempting to see multiple doctors, or “doctor shop,” in order to get duplicate painkiller prescriptions.
Since the majority of opiate painkillers could no longer be crushed or injected, and due to how much more difficult it had become for individuals to get prescriptions for opiate painkillers, there was a large number of individuals who were addicted to painkillers yet unable to obtain their substance of choice. As a result, they had to begin looking elsewhere.
The most widely available alternative—which also happened to be more powerful than most painkillers as well as significantly cheaper—was heroin, resulting in the majority of painkiller addicts switching to heroin as their preferred or sole drug of choice. Therefore, in a matter of mere years, rates of painkiller abuse and addiction had begun to decline while heroin use and addiction grew rapidly, replacing painkillers as the most concerning drug to both citizens and public officials.
Numerous sources such as the Center for Disease Control and Time Magazine have referred to the quickly escalating rates of heroin addiction as the heroin epidemic. In fact, Time reported that heroin use increased an astonishing 63 percent over the course of only 11 years, from 2002 to 2013. Additionally, a 2013 survey estimated that half a million people had used heroin in the last year or had a heroin- or opioid dependence, which was an increase of 150 percent from 2007.
Sources also found that 8,200 people died of heroin overdose in 2013 alone. Research has also found that while heroin use has permeated virtually every conceivable demographic, addiction to heroin has been found to be the most common among males aged 18 to 25 who have an income of less than $20,000 per year. With heroin being such an overtly serious problem, there have been many suggestions and legislative changes that are meant to alleviate this epidemic.
How We’re Trying to Stop the Heroin Epidemic
One of the most important anti-heroin initiatives is in education at all age levels, which helps individuals to be more informed of the profound dangers that heroin poses. Moreover, education helps with the misconception many people tend to have, which is that they can somehow remain in control of their heroin use without succumbing to dependency.
There have also been a marked increased in the number of alcohol and drug rehabs that are available as well as both federal- and state-level funding, allowing them to offer a wider variety of treatments. Additionally, innovative legislation like the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) could, if passed, make quality treatments more accessible and available to those in need.
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At Drug Treatment Center Finder, we specialize in matching those who suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction with effective, evidence-based treatments that will best address each individual’s specific recovery needs. If you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about addiction recovery programs, call Drug Treatment Center Finder at 855-619-8070. One phone call can begin your journey to a life of long-lasting health and happiness.