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Heroin Epidemic: Facts and Statistics on Smack

statistics about heroin abuse

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According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in 2015.
The number of first-time heroin users is high, with 170,000 people starting to use it in 2016, which is almost twice as much as in 2006 (90,000).
The first patient treated for the addiction was admitted in 1910 in the New York Bellevue Hospital, and the number of adult users has continued to grow ever since. Its use has expanded on all income levels and most age groups in the past decade, as have incidences of heroin overdose death.

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Table of Contents

Heroin User Statistics: How Common Is the Drug?

The opioid drug heroin looks like a whitish or brownish powder or a black sticky substance called black tar, which one is able to recognize from a young age. The most common heroin slang names include smack, hell dust, horse, and big H. 28,000 children had used this drug in 2013, from which more than a half continued in 2014. 18,000 adolescents were estimated to be addicted to heroin in the year 2014.

  • In 2014, 21.5 million U.S. citizens aged 12 or more struggled with some form of drug addiction.
  • The 2013 use of opioids, mainly heroin, is estimated as 0.4 percent of the population aged 15-64. Heroin use statistics reveal that 586,000 out of 900,000 people aged 12 or more that used heroin in 2013 suffers from heroin addiction.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of heroin use increased from 2002-2004 to 2011-2013 by 62.5%.
  • This alarming change is mainly due to young adults aged 18-25. Their heroin use more than doubled since 2002, increasing by 108.6%.

Facts About Heroin: Who Is Most At Risk?

According to heroin use stats, the following groups are potential victims:

  • Young adults aged 18-25 young man addicted to heroin holding syringe
  • Residents of main metropolitan areas (over 1 million inhabitants)
  • Those that are addicted to other substances, mainly to marijuana and alcohol
  • People who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers
  • Individuals who are addicted to cocaine
  • Persons with no insurance or enrolled in Medicaid
  • Although heroin use increased in all annual household income levels since 2002, people with less than $20,000 per year are the most at risk.
  • Males
  • Heroin abuse in non-Hispanic whites 114.3% from 2002-2004 to 2001-2013 with 1.4 per 1,000 to 3.0 per 1,000.

These risks are not to be underestimated, as the heroin deaths statistics presented later in the article will show.

Men vs. Women

Use of the drug is growing for both men and women since 2002. The abuse rate was 2.4 per thousand for men and 0.8 per thousand for women in 2002-2004. In 2013 these numbers increased to 3.6 per 1,000 for men and 1.6 per 1,000 for women. That constitutes a 50% increase for men and a 100% for females during that decade. Between 2010 and 2013, heroin deaths tripled. For every 100,000 overdoses, two women died in 2013.

Heroin and sex

Sex on heroin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Men experience erectile dysfunction, and women are unable to achieve arousal. Another interesting fact is that the abuse of opioid painkillers seems to be the most reliable factor leading to this type of addiction.

Heroin Addiction Facts: Use of Other Drugs

Over 90% of consumers of this drug also abuse one or more other substances. For example, 5 of every 1000 people who consumed it took cocaine as well. This fact can cause a number of complications, including a heroin withdrawal timeline that is more difficult to predict and manage. In 2014, almost 2 million people abused a prescribed opiate medication, whereas over 500,000 were heroin addicts. Data shows that nearly one-fourth of smack users also develop addictions to opioid medications.

  • In 2012, 259 million single prescriptions were given for opioid pain relievers. That is enough to distribute a prescription to 75% of the U.S. population.
  • According to estimations, four out of five new Big H consumers started with opioid prescription pain relievers.
  • 45% of the general H-using population was already addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers.
  • A 2014 survey of people in addiction treatment confirmed that trend. 94% of the respondents said they switched to Big H because it was easier and cheaper to obtain.
  • 96% of users reported in 2014 to use at least one different drug the past year.
  • 61% of these people used at least three drugs.
  • The percentage of H users addicted to opioid painkillers increased from 20.7% from 2002-2004 to 45.2% in the period between 2011 and 2013.

Heroin Overdoses – Statistics and Dangers

  • In 2011, 258,482 emergency room visits involved overdose on this drug, heroin powder and syringe as do about 14% of all drug-related emergency room visits.
  • After cocaine and marijuana, this is the third drug leading to emergency intervention.
  • The most frequent emergency hospital visitors are between 21-24 years old with 266.1 visits per 100,000.

Heroin Death – Facts and Statistics

How many people die from heroin? Statistics show an alarming increase of overdose-related deaths in the last 15 years.
Opioid overdose is the main contributor to drug-related death rates. That included consumption of both heroin and opium-based prescription pain relievers. Statistics show an alarming increase of heroin overdose related deaths in the last 15 years.

  • From 0.7 per 100,000 during 2002-2006, heroin-related deaths increased to 1.1 per 100,000 in 2009, 1.1 per 100.000 in 2011, and to 2.7 per 100,000 in 2013. That is a 286% increase since 2002.
  • In the U.S., 47,055 people died from drug overdose in 2014. 20% was due to prescription painkillers and 10% due to a heroin
  • 10,574 heroin-related deaths were noted in 2014, which is a 26% increased from 2013.
  • Multi-substance use. In 2013, at least one additional drug abuse was linked to 60% of total 8,257 deaths related to heroin
  • Death of women from painkillers. Between 1999 and 2010, almost 50,000 women died from a prescription painkiller overdose. In that decade, this number quadrupled for women, compared to an increase of 237% in men.

The number of heroin deaths in 2017 is provisional, yet it is expected to be higher than ever.

Heroin Around The World

Worldwide Users

  • In 2008 it was estimated that 13.5 million people used opium-derived substances worldwide.
  • That includes 9.2 million users of heroin.
  • In 2013, 16.4 million people used opiates, according to estimations.

Global Production

  • The worldwide illicit cultivation area for opium counted 296,720 hectares in 2013.
  • 560 tons of opioid substances were produced in 2013.
  • Currently, Afghanistan (the heroin capital of the world) handles 80% of the world’s supply with 209,000 hectares used for opium cultivation.
  • The next largest illicit opium farming areas include 3,900 ha in Laos, 57,800 ha in Myanmar and 265 ha in Thailand.
  • Mexico is the leading opium producer in the Americas with 12,000 ha of cultivation area.
  • Despite producing 30 times less opium than Mexico, Columbia is the primary supplier of heroin to the United States.

US Heroin Epidemic Statistics

Heroin has been the most commonly used illegal opioid for decades.  Over the last few years, the opioid supply in the United States has soared. The drug can now be obtained for three times less than what it was worth in the early 1990s. How much is heroin? It depends on the location – prices vary from as low as $1.90 per gram to as much as $1300 per gram.
Hundreds of people die from overdoses in the US every week, and experts predict this number will continue to rise.
The epidemic has reached such a scale that it is becoming a drag on the US economy and a national security risk apart from the risks it poses to public health. In recent years, the U.S. government has increased efforts to cut both the foreign and domestic supply of heroin while providing counter narcotics assistance to countries like China and Mexico. Federal and state officials have tried to reduce demand by focusing more on treating drug users and less on punishing them.
Below is a list of cities with the biggest problems:

  • The heroin capital of the US is Baltimore packages with heroin– 10% of its residents are addicted to the drug. This is the highest per capita addiction rate in the country. The government has designated this city as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, and local police are able to receive special assistance from the federal government as a result.
  • Dayton is the epicenter of the Ohio heroin epidemic. It has one of the biggest increases in abuse of this drug and ranks as the number one city for overdoses nationwide. Deaths from overdose rose by 60% from 2016 to 2017, from 349 in 2016 to 559 in 2017.
  • Louisville, Kentucky’s biggest city, had 695 overdoses a month in 2017, peaking at 43 overdoses a day on February 9 of last year.
  •  There were 50 overdoses on November 17, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They were accounted for by a “bad H batch.” In 2016, this city had the second highest number of overdose deaths in 2016 of all cities with over 1 million residents. Huntington, West Virginia rounds out the top five. One can see the rate of heroin use by state here.

Regulation and Prohibition

In October 2017, President Donald Trump declared the drug epidemic a public health emergency and approved allocation of federal grant funds to combat the crisis and reduce restrictions on access to treatment. A presidential commission has recommended establishing and funding a federal incentive to improve access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and building partnerships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the industry to facilitate development and testing of new MAT treatments. This could prove pivotal for people struggling with unmanageable chronic pain, due to which they have resorted to heroin.
The number of border patrol agents has been increased to approximately twenty thousand, and heroin trafficking and seizure arrests have increased by 50% between 2010 and 2015, mostly near the southwestern border.
The heroin schedule has never changed – it has always been a schedule I drug, defined as a substance with no accepted medical use and high abuse potential.
The treatment-related measures proposed by the government are expected to bring about lower relapse rates, as the quitting heroin success rate is undeniably low at present.

Getting Help

Having a good treatment plan for drug addiction can make the difference between life and death. With conviction, consistency, and patience, a person who needs help can always find it. A professional rehabilitation center for drug addicts can help one set foot on the path to recovery.

Help Line Woman

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options.
Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Medically Reviewed By Michael Espelin APRN
Olivier George

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.


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