The heroin epidemic that's sweeping from coast to coast in the United States bears very little resemblance to the heroin problem of the '60s and '70s. Then, the user demographics mainly skewed toward young, urban, African-American men and performers in the music industry.
But today's heroin addicts also live in the suburbs and small towns. They are often older and white, with nearly as many female addicts as male. Most first became addicted to prescription pain medication, often after an accident or other injury.
As referenced by research published in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry, many addicts make the switch to heroin because it's easier and cheaper to obtain than pills. It's also much stronger now than the heroin on the streets in past decades. According to one physician who treats heroin addicts, "In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the average street purity was usually . . . 20 to 30 percent. The . . . purity today is usually in excess of 60 percent, frequently in excess of 75 percent."
Purer heroin is a bigger addiction risk because it dramatically affects addicts' brains even more. Even more deadly is heroin laced with fentanyl, a painkiller that's 100 percent stronger than morphine and up to 50 percent stronger than heroin.
The drug has also managed to capture younger users, with its use tripling in high school students from past decades. It's believed that the earlier one has exposure to prescription painkillers, the greater likelihood that they will later turn to heroin abuse.
How can you tell when someone is using heroin?
Risky behaviors are associated with heroin addiction, as addicts will often do anything to get their next fix rather than face the pain of withdrawal. Some potential red flags of heroin usage include:
- Social isolation
- Frequent arguments with family, friends and others
- Increased difficulties at school or work
- Attempts to conceal use of the drug
- Financial problems
Users smoke, swallow or inject heroin. Most addicts inject it into their veins to experience the most intense effects.
As heroin is an illegal drug with no acceptable medical uses here in America, simply possessing or using heroin can result in addicts facing long jail sentences. The illegal activities in which many addicts engage in order to buy and use the drug only increases the risk of arrest and conviction.
If you are facing heroin possession or distribution charges, you should understand the legal ramifications of a conviction. It may be possible to arrange to enter a court-sanctioned rehabilitation program or drug court in order to avoid a felony conviction.