Update: Heroin – The Scourge Continues
March 11, 2001
According to drug
experts, public health officials, and law enforcement authorities, we are in the
midst of a major heroin epidemic that is rivaling the epidemics of the late
1950’s and 1960’s. Younger
people are now using this more potent and potentially more dangerous brand of
narcotic. Government officials are
expressing concern that this epidemic will overwhelm our health care system and
lead to an increase in the crime problem associated with heroin use.
The increase in heroin use today is the result of the following: there
has been a dramatic increase in the worldwide production and refinement of
opium. In addition to it coming
from southeast and southwest Asia where it has historically come from, we are
now seeing a dramatic increase coming from the former Republics of the Soviet
Union, since its breakup starting in 1989.
More heroin is
entering the United States despite the efforts of supply reduction.
It is estimated that more then 400 tons of heroin is illegally imported
annually into the U.S. This cycle
of rising production and importation has led to greater availability, increased
purity and prices falling to new record lows.
With increased production, we have seen for the first time in years,
growing use of this drug. In
addition, heroin with higher purities can be smoked or snorted, avoiding the use
This new and
improved heroin has developed an appeal among middle-class suburban
those identified with alternative or counter cultures, such as the punk rock,
hippie, or what has emerged as the “heroin chic”.
It also has been glamorized in films and by the fashion industry where it
has had a most pervasive effect on impressionable juvenile viewers thus
resulting in the current sharp rise in usage among teens and young adults.
This has been made popular by such movies as “Pulp Fiction” and “Trainspotting”.
In 1997 President Clinton strongly condemned the fashion industry for
capitalizing on the “Heroin Chic”, the style of fashion advertising, shows,
and photography that appears to glamorize the “strung out look” of the
heroin addict. The fashion industry was purposely portraying heroin use as
glamorous in order to sell particular lines of clothing to young people. One
fashion photographer who was well known for his photographs of seeming
strung-out heroin-addicted models recently died of heroin overdose. You could
add to the list all those in the music industry who have died of heroin use
including River Phoenix, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, Jonathan Melvoin of
Smashing Pumpkins, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana just to mention a few. This is
very different from the historic memory of previous generations of heroin
addicts who were looked down upon as down-and-out street junkies.
appeal of heroin goes beyond the chic of the experience.
Just look at the description of using this drug as explained by one
person, “Heroin is really good in the short term. It’s the ultimate live-for-the moment drug.
It makes all of life’s problems seem strangely irrelevant.
But that’s the problem. Once
you discover how good life is with heroin, you never want to go back to a life
without it. If heroin had no
drawbacks, it would be
But it substitutes for everything that we consider important to having
lived a worthwhile and interesting life. It is like a living suicide”.
A recent story by an Associate Press writer tells of a sixteen year old
girl in juvenile lockup waiting trial as an adult on charges that could land her
a life prison sentence. This
suburban Detroit teen had been charged with armed robbery and is suspected in
several others allegedly to support her $200-a-day heroin habit.
She was a high school honor student and gymnast who had started using
heroin at the age of 14.
The average price
of heroin has dropped by nearly two-thirds, while purity has gone up from 15% to
well over 50%. This increased
purity of heroin makes snorting a realistic alternative to injecting and is
creating a new generation of heroin sniffers, snorters, and intranasal users,
rather then the intravenous user. Also research suggests that persons who smoke
or inhale heroin may do so because the pharmacological effects of this higher
purity heroin are similar to those achieved by injecting the drug.
Using it this way makes it easier for people to start using it in the
first place, especially those who might have been deterred by the prospect of
injecting themselves with needles and the fear of HIV infection. There is also
research which suggests that long term users of cocaine and/or crack will cross
over to heroin use to relieve themselves of the long term debilitating chronic
effects of these drugs with a more mellow feeling narcotic high. It has been
recently reported that the same dealers are selling heroin and cocaine/crack.
This is unusual because separate distributors have dealt traditionally
heroin and cocaine.
has reflected this trend of the increased popularity of heroin.
estimated 122,000 new heroin users in 1994 that increased to 141,000 new users
in 1995. During that same time
period heroin-related emergency room episodes increased by 32 percent. Most
frequently recorded reasons for an emergency room visit among heroin-related
episodes during that time frame were chronic effects, seeking detoxification and
McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy in his January 1999
report on “Reducing Drug Abuse in America” list heroin as an emerging
illegal drug threat. Their studies of the problem reveal that there are an
estimated 810,000 chronic users of heroin.
Also heroin initiation rates (new users) have continued to risen
dramatically since 1992 with the most dramatic increase occurring in 1996.
It points out that “the growing use of heroin by young people is an
alarming recent trend”. Rates of heroin use among teenagers rose in eight, tenth, and
twelfth grades in the 1990s resulting in the mean average age of initiation
declining from 26.2 years in 1988 to 18.1 in 1996.
Dr Troiani has
been working in the field for 30 years. He
is a consultant and trainer for Terence Gorski’s CENAPS Corporation with whom
he has developed a training seminar “DRUG UPDATE 2001”.
His other responsibility includes the Directorship of Mental Health and
Addiction Programs for the Health Department, and is the Coordinator of
Addiction Studies at the Adler School of Professional Psychology located in