A Heroin Epidemic in Numbers

Heroin Epidemic

After a time period where heroin was of little interest in the United States, heroin use has once again skyrocketed in the United States. This time, heroin abuse has befallen young people the most, young people and grown adults who are addicted to opioid pharmaceutical drugs. When we examine the heroin issue, it is clear to see that this is a heroin epidemic quite unlike any experienced before. Now, even after lying mostly dormant for many years in the 1990s and early 2000s, heroin is back and causing more problems than ever before.

The rate of heroin overdoses in the United States has increased by more than two-hundred and eighty-six percent between 2002 and 2013. Since 2013, the rates increased by more than two-hundred percent again. All told, tens of thousands of Americans have died from overdoses since 1999, and the problem has increased by more than five-hundred percent in that same time.

Rising Heroin Addiction and Overdose; a New Cause for Concern

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are the most at risk for heroin misuse. This demographic has experienced the brunt of the overdose increases, yet people in all age ranges and demographics have been hurt by this problem. In 2002, only about .75 people per one-hundred thousand residents lost their lives due to a heroin overdose. By 2013, that number had increased to 2.75 people for every one-hundred-thousand residents.

CDC - Heroin abuse vs. Heroin deaths
Graphs from Courtesy CDC

One of the most significant problems with heroin abuse in the twenty-first century America is that heroin now affects people of all ages, race, gender, income, geographic location, etc. This is no longer a problem that affects just the impoverished, the lower class, the inner city demographics, etc. Now, heroin abuse is just as likely to affect middle-income, Caucasian individuals in Suburban America as it is to affect the inner city, lower-income, minority communities.

Increased Supply Fuels the Problem

The heroin problem would not be nearly as dire as it is now, were it not for rapidly increasing trafficking rates of heroin into the U.S. Such a rampant increase in supply has led to more of the drug being available and exposed to all American demographics.

The amount of supply of heroin seized at the Mexican border has increased by four-hundred percent between 2000 and 2013. And if the seizure of the drug has increased by four-hundred percent, we can extrapolate that the amount of heroin successfully brought into the U.S. has also increased proportionately. This has made heroin more available and more affordable.

How the Demand for Heroin Came About

The real question we should all be asking at this point is, how did the demand for heroin increase so much and in such a short amount of time? How did this drug become so popular and interesting so quickly? The answer, though we do not like to hear it, is a clear one.

The answer is that America became addicted to opioid pharmaceuticals.

Opioid pharmaceutical drugs, prescription pain relievers, these drugs present the greatest risk to the American people when it comes to substances. Starting in the late 1990s, the American medical industry changed their stance on pain, instituting highly addictive opioid painkillers as a “solution” for Americans who struggled with pain problems.

Within just a few years, tens of thousands of Americans were addicted, then hundreds of thousands, then millions. There are now approximately twelve million Americans who are hooked on opioids, and when those addicts can’t get pills, they turn to heroin. We need to address the heroin problem, yes, but we will also need to address the prescription drug abuse problem, as the two go hand-in-hand.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.