Heroin Use Rising in the US

Pam Harrison

April 27, 2015

Heroin use in the United States, though still uncommon relative to the use of other illicit substances, has risen significantly since 2002, a new report indicates.

Rachel Lipari, PhD, and Arthur Hughes, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), report that 681,000 Americans aged 12 years and older, or 0.3% of the population, used heroin in 2013.

In comparison, about 33 million people aged 12 years and older used marijuana (12.6%); about 11 million used prescription pain killers nonmedically (4.2%); and about 4 million used cocaine (1.6%) in 2013.

An estimated 169,000 individuals aged 12 years and older used heroin for the first time in the same year.

"On average, this represents roughly 460 people initiating heroin use each day," the authors observe.

Among those who had initiated heroin use in the past 12 months, the average age at first use was 24.5 years.

However, the number of people who used heroin for the first time in 2013 was not significantly different from the number of people who used the drug for the first time in most years since 2002, the authors note.

By age group, 31,000 adolescents, 244,000 young adults, and 406,000 adults aged 26 years or older started using heroin in the past year.

The great majority of people felt that there was a great risk in trying heroin even once or twice or from using the drug on a weekly basis.

On the other hand, more than 15% of all those asked indicated that they felt it would be fairly easy or very easy for them to obtain heroin if they wanted some.

People seeking treatment for heroin addiction increased from 277,000 in 2002 to 526,000 in 2013.

"The concern that efforts to prevent the illegal use of prescription opioids are causing people to turn to heroin is not supported by the trend data," the authors state. They also note that 169,000 people used heroin for the first time in 2013.

This is similar to the number of people who used heroin in most years since 2002, they add.

"Although research indicates that people who previously misused prescription pain relievers were more likely to initiate heroin use than people who had not misused prescription pain relievers, most people who misuse prescription pain relievers do not progress to heroin use," the investigators write.

"Heroin rates, perceptions of the riskiness of heroin use, and perceptions about the ease of obtaining heroin have changed over the past decade, but they have not varied in recent years."

SAMSHA: The CBHSQ Report. Published online April 23, 2015. Full text


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