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How Heroin Hit America

Heroin abuse is becoming a huge problem in the United States. The number of heroin-related deaths increased nearly 600% between 2001 and 2014. What was once a drug associated with models, musicians, and actors, has now spread across all social classes – especially among the white working class. In 2014, fatal drug overdoses reached an all-time high of 47,055 people. That is 47,055 people from all walks of life. These people are doctors, actors, lawyers, construction workers, and artists. They are your neighbor, your boss, and maybe your son or daughter.

Heroin abuse has been on an upward trajectory since 2011, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. To better understand this, you need to look at the history of opiates in the United States. It all starts back in the 1980s, when doctors started writing prescriptions for painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone for patients suffering from chronic pain.

Enter OxyContin.

In 1996, Purdue Pharmaceuticals introduced a breakthrough pill. Its name was OxyContin, and it was revolutionary for the time. It was developed to last longer, and act stronger, than other painkillers. By relieving pain for up to 12 hours, OxyContin gave people suffering from chronic pain their lives back. It wasn’t long after OxyContin hit the market that it began to be abused. “Hillbilly heroin”, as it was called, could be crushed up and snorted to simulate a heroin high. The miracle drug that promised a normal life, free of chronic pain, had been a lie. Purdue Pharmaceuticals even ended up pleading guilty to a felony charge of misrepresenting OxyContin’s addictive nature. This misrepresentation influenced a lot of doctors’ decision when prescribing OxyContin for minor injuries. By the mid-2000s, the amount of OxyContin prescriptions had been reduced. This didn’t fix the addiction problem, as many people bought prescriptions on the black market or resorted to heroin as an alternative. Criminals in Mexico noticed this trend and began moving heroin across the border, establishing a presence in small cities across America. Their target customer was working class whites.


When 2010 came around, doctors who unnecessarily wrote prescriptions for opioids faced intense scrutiny from the government. Methadone clinics opened up around the country. While these clinics were designed to treat heroin and opioid addiction, they often created a dependency for methadone instead. Doctors were prescribing less and the government wasn’t providing proper treatment to opioid addicts. This left a void that was filled by drug dealers and gangs who flooded the streets with heroin. Even Mexican kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman entered the heroin trade.


Heroin Abuse

Heroin soared in popularity. It was stronger than the pharmaceuticals and was a fraction of the price. It has spread across the United States, taking an exceptionally strong hold in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and Vermont. New Hampshire has been hit the hardest of all, with approximately 400 fatal overdoses in 2015.

Taking action against heroin

Politicians like Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie shared personal stories of friends and family members who struggled with addiction. It was especially personal for Bush, who spoke of his daughter Noelle’s crack cocaine addiction and subsequent arrest in 2002.

It was Chris Christie, however, who spoke on drug addiction and policy. Rather than incarcerate addicts, Christie argued that it’s the government’s duty to help rehabilitate them. This is exactly the approach he has taken in his home state, New Jersey, and he claims to have greatly reduced the number of fatal overdoses. He is even trying to reopen a now defunct prison in New

Jersey, and use it as a treatment facility for inmates with drug addictions. Democrats and Republicans are working together, introducing a bill to combat the growing heroin epidemic. Taking a page from Chris Christie’s strategy in New Jersey, this bill will focus more on giving addicts the treatment they need rather than throwing them in jail. As election time gets closer, the focus on drug addiction will become stronger.