US heroin use up almost 500 percent over last decade and a half

Heroin use has exploded in the U.S., with the number of users up nearly 500 percent in less than two decades according to a study conducted at Columbia University.

There are a number of reasons why heroin use has grown so dramatically, including widespread availability, fairly inexpensive prices, and an increased level of acceptability among social circles, according to researchers.  Interestingly, the heroin epidemic has disproportionately impacted young, white men, as well as suburban areas, which now have the highest rate of drug overdoses among the non-elderly.

New studies have also revealed many addicts did not become hooked on the drug as a substitute for opioid painkillers, which was usually the assumption in previous years. Dr. Silvia Martins explained the new findings in a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry:

“Heroin use appears to have become more socially acceptable among suburban and rural white individuals, perhaps because its effects seem so similar to those of widely available prescription opioids,” Dr. Martin wrote.

In some rural areas where deaths from heroin overdoses have become an almost daily occurrence, many local morgues no longer have enough space for the bodies. In Georgia, the number of overdoses the state is experiencing have led to a $4.5 million morgue expansion project.

Georgia’s chief medical examiner, Jon Eisenstat said the number of overdose cases has doubled.

“There are new drugs that are being produced in clandestine labs that are less expensive than buying prescription medications,” said Dr. Eisenstat. “Those drugs are more potent and we’re seeing more deaths as a result of that.”

In Ohio, a state ravaged by the heroin crisis, Governor John Kasich is trying a new approach. Kasich has ordered doctors and dentists to only prescribe seven days worth of opioids to patients, and only five days worth of pills to minors.

Ohio, which is also running out of space at its morgues, is desperate for some relief. So are many other state government and families effected by this epidemic.


[International Business Times via Raw Story] [NBC News] [Washington Post] [CBS News] [Becker’s Hospital Review] [CNN] [Photo courtesy WITF]