The heroin epidemic in America

A snapshot of what’s happening in America, and how emerging trends signal an increase in heroin use and related problems.

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Heroin Epidemic Causing Alarm

As treatment centers nationwide see an increase in admission requests for heroin addiction, professionals are expressing concern about a heroin epidemic. On the one hand, organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse keep track of new crazes in harmful, if not fatal, substances use. Recent reports include information on current fads such as caffeine powder, e-cigarettes and cough syrups containing codeine. And by paying attention to emerging trends, professionals hope to save lives by informing the public and issuing warnings.

On the other hand, the resurgence of past drugs of choice can cause red flags. A growing heroin epidemic is coming about, as evidenced by increased admissions for heroin addiction in treatment centers and research data. While prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, Xanax, Ambien, or Valium, and depressants such as Nembutal, Secanol and Phenobarbital continue to create havoc and claim lives, the resurgence of heroin use is cause for higher vigilance.

Availability, Lower Cost Triggering Heroin Epidemic

Fear of a heroin epidemic is not limited to the urban jungles of major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. Even in idyllic, primarily rural, states, such as Vermont, officials are worried about the threat.

In Vermont Governor, Peter Shumlin’s, 2014 State of the State address, he referred to the problem as a crisis throughout the entire state. He said statistics show a 40% increase in the use of heroin from the previous year. But the dilemma in Vermont is not an isolated concern. The heroin epidemic is spreading across smaller communities throughout the United States. Appalachia, one of the most secluded areas of the country, is on the map of increased heroin use. So, how does the problem start?

Prescription pain killers as gateway drugs

Law enforcement officials say that heroin addiction often begins with the abuse of prescription medications. Drugs such as Oxycontin and Percocet are paving the way for heroin use. The opportunities to purchase heroin, combined with a relatively low street cost, make heroin a magnet for people already abusing drugs. The availability of stronger and purer forms of heroin precludes the necessity of injection. Now users can snort the drug and avoid health threats of needle use, another reason for its popularity. Snorting poses an increased threat of overdose.

Treatment needed to help curb heroin epidemic

With heightened awareness of the current heroin epidemic, addiction treatment centers have a responsibility to prepare themselves for treating clients with compassion and security, as well as providing tools for kicking the habit. In some areas of the country, the need for treatment outnumbers available facilities. In others, political leaders are involved in creating new legislation to help address what they describe as a public health emergency.

Some states are exploring ideas such as court diversion systems to help non-violent offenders get into treatment, and easier availability of drugs that help neutralize an overdose of heroin. At the same time, lawmakers also are weighing the options of harsher sentences for convicted heroin traffickers. Some communities are conducting intense public education campaigns and establishing heroin hotlines to help direct people with addiction to seek help.

What ideas do you have to address the epidemic? Your comments are welcomed.

About the author
Tracy Smith covers topics within the drug addiction niche being a recovering addict herself. She is thankful to have found treatment for her substance abuse that helped her become sober.
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