Preventing Today’s Resurgence of Heroin Abuse From Ruining Tomorrow
Just like with fashion, it seems each decade is associated with a particular drug. Most people associate marijuana with the sixties, LSD and hallucinogens with the seventies, cocaine and amphetamines with the eighties, and heroin with the nineties. If you were to ask people what are the most abused drugs today, many would probably mention meth and prescription medications like OxyContin, also known as Oxycodone, and Adderall. In fact, prescription medication abuse has become so prevalent that prescription opiates like Oxy and Vicodin, and amphetamines, like Adderall and Ritalin have become so expensive and difficult to obtain that drug abusers are turning to street drugs for a similar but cheaper high. Many believe that is why we are currently witnessing a resurgence of heroin abuse.
According to the recently released National Survey on Drug Use & Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of people who were dependent on or abused heroin expanded from 213,000 in 2007 to 399,000 in 2009. That is an increase of more than 85% in two years. That is a phenomenal amount of growth in such a short period of time. While it is difficult to pinpoint with certainty why there would be such a significant increase, anecdotal and scientific data both suggest that availability and affordability have made heroin a very attractive option to those who can no longer afford or access prescription opiates.
It is also worth noting that the risks of heroin abuse that were such effective deterrents in the past have lost some of their stigma. With advances in HIV and AIDS medicine, the general population, and even more so young people, do not perceive the gravity of contracting the disease through shared or dirty needles. While we can be grateful that HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was, it certainly is a serious medical condition that compromises a person’s immune system and makes them more susceptible to a whole host of infections and diseases. Users also dismiss or do not realize that they could also contract Hepatitis, MRSA, or botulism through intravenous drug use. All conditions which are just as serious, if not more so, than HIV.
It is important to remember that heroin can also be snorted or smoked. In those instances, while the risks associated with intravenous drug use are not an issue, there is still the possibility of serious medical complications, including but not limited to depressed respiration and pneumonia or damage to vital organs caused by unknown contaminants mixed with heroin. Furthermore, heroin users simply may not realize just how addictive or deadly heroin is. Because it is a drug that had faded into the background, we no longer have the vivid images or horrifying stories about heroin addiction and overdose in our collective consciousness. We worry about the dangers of meth labs, loved ones abusing prescription medications, or binge drinking, but, these days, heroin is not even on most people’s radar.
The first step in combatting this worrying trend is to acknowledge it exists and try to determine the root causes. If a friend of family member was chemically dependent on prescription opiates like OxyContin or Vicodin, they are particularly at risk for developing a heroin addiction. If you suspect a loved one has a substance abuse problem of any sort, you should look for symptom such as changes in mood, physical appearance, and behavior. Some specific indicators of heroin abuse are needle marks, increased lethargy, slurred speech, and blackouts. Regardless of what you may think, discussing heroin with your loved ones, particularly your children who may not be quick to mention illicit drug use, is an important preventative measure to take. After all, the most important thing we can do to combat addiction is to stop it from taking root in the first place.