Substance abuse specialists are seeing a sharp increase in heroin addiction, even as progress is being made against the misuse of oxycodone and other prescription opiate painkillers.
The trend, which mirrors national figures, worries treatment experts because it coincides with the imposition of state-mandated limits on the use of the most effective treatment drugs. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that misuse of prescription drugs has dropped about 15 percent nationally since 2010, while heroin use has doubled since 2007.
Authorities said progress has been made against the misuse of prescription drugs through public education efforts that highlighted the drugs' highly addictive nature, together with an effort to get doctors to limit painkiller prescriptions and more closely monitor the patients using them.
While that curbed the availability of those drugs to abusers, heroin became a cheaper, more readily available alternative. The is so pure that some users start out snorting the heroin, avoiding the deterrent of self-injecting.
Heroin is a highly addictive illegal drug that has become a serious problem in the U.S., particularly over the last 30 years. Opium, from which heroin is derived, first became widespread in America during the early 1800s as the common pain killer morphine. In the late 1800s, heroin was invented and originally marketed as a safe substitute for morphine, which had been discovered to be addictive. Heroin was sold legally by pharmacies nationwide for decades until it became clear that it was even more addictive and destructive than morphine and the U.S. congress banned it with the Dangerous Drug Act of 1920.
The American market for heroin, however, has only grown since then. One of the factors that is causing the recent growth in U.S. heroin addiction is that the drug is more pure and less expensive than ever before. In the 1970s, a bag of heroin cost $30 and the average heroin user was a 28 to 30 year old urban resident. Today, the same amount of heroin costs just $4 and the average addict is a white, middle-class teenager.
The heroin that is available in the U.S. today is supplied completely from foreign sources of opium. The heroin that is on the U.S. market originates in four distinct parts of the world: Mexico, South America (mostly Colombia), Southeast Asia (mostly Burma), and Southwest Asia (mostly Afghanistan). A majority of the heroin that is used in the United States started out as poppies grown in Colombia and Mexico. Most of the heroin sold in the western United States comes from Mexico and most of the heroin found in the eastern U.S. is Colombian.
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