The New Faces of Heroin Addiction

By Dorri Olds 07/28/16

Heroin addiction is affecting more women, children, and middle class people than ever before. 

The New Faces of Heroin Addiction

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said that the current heroin crisis is worse than the crack epidemic of the '80s and '90s. The current rate of deaths caused by drug overdoses has skyrocketed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of fatal heroin overdoses has nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. A January 2016 report by the CDC showed drug-related deaths had increased 137% since 2000, and that includes a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths due to opioid pain relievers and heroin.

But, unlike the crack crisis in decades past, addiction now affects more women, more kids from wealthy suburbs, and more whites. It isn’t easy to pinpoint exactly why that is, but one common theory is that as prescriptions for opioid pain medications increased, so did heroin users.

As the government controls tighten for doctors, it is no longer as easy to prescribe pain pills. So, as people hooked on Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet find it harder to get their medicines from the doctor, they are turning to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get. 

So, where doctors used to have control over the quality of drugs their patients were taking, now, with the uptick in their patients purchasing street drugs, it becomes nearly impossible to monitor what addicts are taking. We’re hearing of more deaths from heroin cut with other dangerous ingredients like fentanyl.

Carolyn Weems lost her daughter Caitlyn, 21, to a heroin overdose. “The face of heroin has changed," Weems told the CBN News in June. “It used to be a criminal element, in an urban city, in a warehouse, nothing around here. Now the face of heroin is my daughter who loved soccer.”

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain relievers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men. And women may become dependent on prescription pain relievers more quickly than men.

As for why more whites are heroin addicts these days, it could be because they have more access to addictive painkillers than some minority groups. Dr. David Rosenbloom, professor of health policy and management at Boston University's School of Public Health said, “Blacks have been undertreated for pain for decades.”

That was confirmed by a 2016 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that whites are more likely than blacks to be prescribed strong pain medications for the same issues. Some believe that doctors may harbor unconscious stereotypes and beliefs about blacks as well as white doctors having issues empathizing with people who are unlike themselves.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.