California Sees Increase in Millennials Coming to Emergency Rooms Because of Heroin

By Kelly Burch 02/13/17

Heroin-related emergency room visits have risen across all age groups but the increase has been most dramatic for millennials.

Doctors inside an emergency room.

California has seen a sharp increase in heroin-related emergency room visits, spurred in large part by millennials. 

In the first quarter of 2016, 412 adults in their twenties visited emergency rooms in California because of heroin—double the number for the same time period in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. In 2015, the state saw about 1,500 heroin-related emergency room visits by millennials, a 50% increase from 2012. 

Dr. Crescenzo Pisano, an internist who specializes in addiction and addiction medicine at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro, California, said that the average heroin user has changed since he began working at the hospital in 1984. “The high school athlete to the kid next door. It’s no longer people from the seedy side of town,” Pisano said.

Although heroin-related emergency room visits have risen across all age groups in California, the increase has been most dramatic for millennials. In Orange County, the rate tripled between 2010 and 2016.

Jody Waxman, a California mother whose son was addicted to heroin, was not surprised by the findings. “He went to the emergency department a number of times,” she said. “He once almost died on my living room floor. He had gotten a hold of heroin laced with other drugs. It was very bad.”

Waxman now sits on the board of a parent and youth support group, where about 75% of the people they serve are addicted to heroin. She says that for millennials like her son, the powerful draw of heroin and easy access to the drug is too much to resist. 

“For millennials, because of what they are going through in their life, not being able to handle feelings and past traumas, they can get heroin anywhere from on any street corner,” she says. “The dealers come to you.”

Parents must overcome stigma in order to talk to their young adult children about opioid addiction, she says. “When this came up, I had to deal with this addiction issue. We are a nice, middle-class family, Jewish family. What the hell happened? The whole drug issue is huge.“

Education, she said, is key. “The solution is education. If we can educate the parents, and tell them you are not your child’s friend. You have to lock up your medicine cabinets. You have to know who are your child’s friends.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.