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The US Has A Heroin Epidemic

Tagged under: News USA Criminal Justice War On Drugs
By Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi on January 5, 2016.

The War on Drugs has long been seen as The New Jim Crow. With the sudden rise in heroin among white populations in suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas, every single racial group within the United States is now on the front lines of this war.

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, says it is no surprise that a call to soften the blow of heroin-related convictions is occurring now that the drug has taken root in white communities. "Look at marijuana in the 1930s" Mauer states. "Marijuana was demonized and the popular image of it was that it was used in racy parts of town, where blacks or Mexican-Americans went. That was the perception. Then in the 1960s, millions of largely white, middle-class college students started consuming enormous quantities of marijuana and perceptions changed almost overnight." Regardless of the racial issue, one more blow to the War on Drugs is supported by Expeal.

As has been long argued, drug abuse should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. Heroin-related deaths have jumped 39 percent from 2012 to 2013. When trends are analyzed over a decade, the numbers are even worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that heroin-related deaths have actually quadrupled from 2002 to 2013. What is the gateway drug for heroin abuse? Opioid painkillers that contain oxycodone. Drugs like Oxycontin, pushed on Americans by the Sackler family, making the British family over $14 billion dollars, were prescribed to 45 percent of the people who used heroin.

In fact, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health's 2014 report (PDF warning), people addicted to prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin. It is easy to understand, especially when drugs like Oxycontin are considered to be Hillbilly heroin.

The new face of the heroin user is something to make note of before moving forward. According to a US National Library of Medicine's National Institutes of Health study, first-time users of heroin were equally distributed between the races before the 1980s. Now, in the 2010s, almost 90 percent of people who use heroin for the first time are white.

Pointing an even bigger finger at the Big Pharma community for bringing this curse on the American population is a CDC report that found that "significant increases in heroin use were found in groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes." In fact, that same study found that – as we mentioned above – the gateway drug for 75 percent heroin addicts was prescription opioids. 3 out of 4 heroin addicts were prescribed pain pills. It is these legal pills that push people to illegal drugs and the crimes required to satisfy the urges that are forced on a person with addiction.

In 2013, 8,260 people died from heroin – a significant increase over the numbers from 2012. According to The Boston Globe, Massachusetts saw a 20 percent increase from 2013 to 2014 and a 63 percent increase from 2012 to 2014. Maine saw the number of deaths from heroin double from 2013 to 2014. The Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, told his constituents that Vermont was in a "full-blown heroin crisis" during his 2014 State of the State Message after the number of people seeking treatment for opiate addictions rose 770 percent (that is not a typo – 770 percent) from 2000 to 2012. New Hampshire, one of the first states to report 2015 numbers, said that they have set a state record for the number of people who have overdosed on heroin and other opioids.

With increased use of intravenous drugs has also come an increase in the number of HIV cases, such as the outbreak that hit rural Indiana, as well as Hepatitis, which has hit many states harder than ever before. There are also other serious health issues related to re-using or sharing needles and poor injection technique, which come with the heroin epidimc, including but not limited to (warning: not for the queasy) abscesses, gas gangrene, ulcers, tetanus, and thrombosis, among other conditions.

It is good to note that this problem has not gone unnoticed by the federal government. President Barack Obama went to West Virginia, considered by some to be ground zero in the heroin epidemic, to announce a multi-million dollar effort to combat the issue. It is good timing, as now that marijuana is no longer profitable to Mexican drug cartels, the UN World Drug report (PDF warning) makes note that Mexico's opium production rose by 50 percent in 2014. The authors of the report blame this increase on the "voracious American appetite" for heroin.

Contact your federal and state and local politicians and make sure they know your vote depends on their support of smart, sensible, and fact-based drug policies.

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