Heroin Abuse Trends

How Many People Are Using Heroin Today?

Heroin usage rates have remained relatively stable since about 2000, though this doesn't mean that heroin use is no longer a significant problem in the United States:

  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), almost four million Americans report having tried heroin at least once.
  • In 2006, a national survey on drug use showed that 560,000 people had used heroin at least once during the previous 12 months, but due to the difficulty in collecting accurate data from a transient community of heroin users, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) estimates the true amount to be almost twice that number -- meaning that as many as one million people have likely used heroin at least once in the past twelve months.
  • The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 106 000 people tried heroin for the first time in 2007. The average age of initiation was 21.8. Both statistics are essentially the same as what was reported for 2006.
  • Between 2002 and 2007, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported a decline in the percentage of high school students who perceived a "great risk" of trying heroin once or twice or using heroin once or twice a week.

Types and Purity of Heroin

The two types of heroin most commonly encountered in the United States are the white powder heroin originating out of South America or Asia and the brown powder or tar-like heroin originating out of Mexico.

Average purity rates of heroin vary greatly across the country. In 2004, purity rates in the western US averaged 26 percent, while in the east average purity rates were 42 percent. This wide range in potencies contributes to the dangers of heroin use and the risks of accidental overdose.

Cities where abuse is particularly prevalent include Baltimore, Newark, Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

About 15 percent of all people getting help for an addiction have a heroin problem. Treatment admission statistics indicate that from 1995 to 2005, there was a slight decline in the percentage of users who were injecting heroin and an equivalent increase in the percentage of users who were snorting the drug -- although most people seeking treatment are IV drug users.

Most heroin users are also polydrug users, which means that they often abuse other substances concurrently with heroin, or at times when they are not using heroin.

From 1995 to 2005, SAMHSA reported a significant switch away from medication management (methadone) and towards detoxification-based treatment. In 1995, 55 percent of the people who sought treatment for heroin addiction planned to use medication management in 1995; by 2005, that number had dropped to 31 percent

These statistics may have shifted back toward medication management with the advent and popularity of buprenorphine treatment in the past few years, but statistics are as yet unavailable to confirm this.

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