New research shows the profile of the average heroin addict—and how he or she got that way—is changing.
Fifty years ago, heroin came into widespread use across the country. Back then, the average user was:
Today, the average heroin user is:
When heroin was popular in the past, it was often the first opiate the user had ever experimented with. Today, nearly half of all heroin addicts started their opiate use with prescription pills. Increasingly, more of those same users became hooked on pills after their doctor prescribed them for a legitimate medical condition.
The problem for opiate addicts is prescription drugs are expensive and are becoming harder to get. New legislation on both the state and federal level has drastically reduced the supply of prescription drugs. Most states now have prescription drug monitoring programs that take aim at doctors who over-prescribe medicines and patients who trick doctors into giving them more medicine than they need.
Drug companies have participated in the fight against painkiller abuse, too. One of the most commonly abused drugs, OxyContin, was recently reformulated to make abusing the drug more difficult.
In the face of a changing drug market, many addicts have turned to heroin for their their fix. Heroin can be several times cheaper than prescription drugs. With opiates, more drugs are needed to get the same effects as time goes on. As a result, price is an important concern for addicts.
Today’s heroin is also more pure than it was in the past, making it possible for users to snort and smoke the drug. Intravenous needles pose a psychological barrier for many people. With that barrier removed, abuse has risen.
Opiate addiction is so powerful that many experts believe controlling the supply of drugs is not enough. Once people get hooked, they will go to great lengths to get their next fix.
America’s war on drugs has primarily centered around controlling the supply of drugs, but critics of this policy have called it a failure. Even a younger Barack Obama, before his presidency, called the war on drugs “an utter failure.” In the case of opiate addiction, the government winning battles against prescription opiates led to the rise of an arguably more dangerous successor, heroin.
For anyone who struggles with heroin addiction, remember that time is not on your side. It’s best to seek professional addiction treatment as soon as possible.