heroin abuse public health crisis

Why is Heroin Abuse a Public Health Issue?

America is facing a heroin epidemic. Sadly, opioid overdose deaths have surpassed car accident fatalities. In 2016, over 42,000 people overdosed on opioid drugs, compared to 40,200 car accident deaths in the same year. Heroin has made headlines for years, but it has only been recently that it grew to epidemic proportions. Why is this the case and what is being done to help people in need? 

Groups Most at Risk for Heroin Abuse

In the United States, five times as many people use heroin today compared to a decade ago. While heroin-related deaths have increased for all demographics, white and Native American users have the highest increases. Heroin addiction affects people in all parts of the country, not just urban areas. People of all social classes are also impacted, though those with less education and fewer resources tend to get less help then their more educated and financially stable peers.

Why are We Facing an Epidemic?

There was a point in time when prescription opioids were being over-prescribed by doctors and hospitals. A series of medical studies in the 1980s suggested that prescription opioids were a relatively safe option for treating long-term pain. Of course, some pain doctors abused this and wrote prescriptions, even when the medicines were not needed. To combat the prescription drug problem, law enforcement cracked down on over-prescribing drugs, forcing people to look elsewhere. Heroin started popping up as the cheaper and more accessible drug, and some people made the transition.

Illicitly Made Fentanyl is a Problem, Too

To make matters worse, illicitly produced fentanyl is driving up fatalities. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are made by illegal street chemists. It can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is sometimes found mixed into counterfeit opioids and benzodiazepines. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids have increased 47% between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, roughly 28,400 people died from overdoses. Because fentanyl can be easily and inexpensively made in a lab, public health officials are concerned that it will continue showing up in counterfeit products, benzodiazepine pills, heroin and cocaine.

What is Being Done to Fight the Epidemic?

Although we’ve been hearing a lot about the heroin epidemic, it’s still a relatively new problem. There are various efforts being made to prevent and treat heroin use, such as:
  • Prevention and intervention initiatives
  • Prescription drug monitoring programs
  • Greater access to substance abuse programs
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Resources and training for naloxone administration
  • Needle exchange programs
If you or someone you love is addicted to prescription opioids or heroin, please contact Drug Help Line at 800-591-0343. Your call is free and confidential. Our trained representatives will help you find a treatment center that is effective and affordable.