Teen Heroin Use on the Rise Across America

Heroin is an illegal street drug synthesized from morphine. Once a very popular illicit drug, heroin took a back seat to prescription drug abuse. Now the pendulum is swinging back, with an alarming rise in the number of Americans reportedly addicted to heroin.

There are estimated to be over 2 million heroin users in the U.S. with at least 350,000 being seriously addicts. A 2011 Federal Risk Survey found that three percent of U.S. teens have tried it and 30 percent of high school seniors say it’s easy to get. Heroin is growing in popularity but hardly anyone other than law enforcement and addiction specialists seem to notice.

Heroin is a controlling substance with users falling in love with it on their first try. This love affair is so all-consuming that addicts are willing to do almost anything to get more, including committing crimes.

Catching criminals is one way that law officers know the problem is growing. Police officers in one area of Ohio say that they had $400,000 worth of heroin seizures in 2011. By 2012 the dollar value of heroin seizures had ballooned to more than $1.36 million. Spokesmen for local law enforcement say that a surprisingly high number of arrested criminals are linked to heroin, with one agent quoted as saying 70 percent of arrests were connected to the drug.

Heroin-related fatalities are another clue that the drug is enjoying more popularity. The same area of Ohio saw a 25 percent rise in heroin overdoses between 2008 and 2009 but more than a 36 percent rise in heroin-caused deaths between 2011 and 2012.

But the surge in heroin use is not isolated to Ohio. In April 2013 seven people died in under a week in Washington State after being exposed to an especially pure batch of heroin. Heroin was linked to more than 300 deaths in St. Louis, Missouri, between 2010 and 2012.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the number of death certificates listing heroin as a contributing cause doubled between 1999 and 2009 to reach almost 3,500 citizens who perished through heroin use. In 2009 a significant portion of those who died were quite young: one-third of those who died were under age 30 and 93 were teenagers. More than 2,000 deaths were among people ages 30 to 50 years.

As the statistics show, heroin is a drug used by Americans of all ages, but the under 30 crowd is most at risk. Some addiction experts feel this represents a migration of young people from prescription drug abuse to the cheaper and more intense street drug. As teenagers and other young people find the cost of prescription drugs soaring and access narrowing, heroin is seen as a cheap substitute – a high that costs $50 with OxyContin can cost just $10 with street heroin.

That heroin is replacing OxyContin seems apparent. Since OxyContin’s formula was changed, making it crush-proof and therefore harder to abuse, treatment centers are seeing a sharp decline in OxyContin patients. A survey of 150 rehab facilities in 39 states revealed a 50 percent drop in the number of Oxy-addicted admissions. At the very same time, heroin admissions at treatment centers are on the rise.

The rise in heroin-related crime, the increase in heroin fatalities and growing treatment center admissions point to more heroin being available on the street. Young people may be transitioning from prescription drugs to heroin, but heroin is far more unpredictable. Teens and other users think they know how much heroin to use, but batches differ wildly in purity and potency. The amount which produced a “safe” high once could prove deadly with the next batch.

American communities are living with a false sense of immunity and safety from this problem.  Heroin use has shot up more than 80 percent over the past decade and it kills more than 2,000 teens annually. It’s affecting the young, old, rich and poor in every part of the country.