Heroin’s Dramatic Comeback

Recently, heroin has been taking the U.S. by storm. But why the sudden rise in use? Prescription pain killers are to blame.

Heroin’s Dramatic Comeback

As local, state, and federal agencies in the U.S.A have cracked down on the pain medication prescription drug industry – specifically opioid-based medications – a dramatic rise in heroin use has occurred. What is different about this epidemic is that while it has hit big cities such as Chicago and New York, it has also targeted a large swath of middle-class white suburban communities across the country, from Vermont to Utah and on to Portland. Instead of being a predominantly “ethnic” urban problem, this new heroin epidemic is affecting young teenagers who think they can use it without getting addicted. Sam Quinones is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in a PBS interview said, “I have been all over the country. And I would say, largely, this is a white problem…Heroin today and prescription pill addiction today is almost entirely a white phenomenon. And it’s rural in America…And it’s in towns that never really had a problem with heroin before this – Charlotte, Salt Lake, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Albuquerque…”

Marketing prowess and cheap prices make heroin an attractive buy

As mentioned before, the problem started with prescription pills being prescribed in the 80’s and 90’s like OxyContin, Demerol, Vicodin, etc. The standard street price is generally one dollar per milligram which means that one 30 mg pill is 30 dollars which lasts for a couple of hours. The price goes up as does one’s tolerance, so it gets very expensive very quickly. Heroin is a lot cheaper and is being marketed by Mexican cartels aggressively and brazenly, right outside methadone clinics in several instances. The price is about 5 to 10 dollars per bag or dose, making it very attractive for opioid users. As the heroin moves into suburbia, the prices go up, but even 20 dollars a bag is still a deal compared to the pills. The gangs or cartels who sell it put unique logos on the bags being sold, as in the case of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s heroin, which was labeled with the ace of spades. This is a way to differentiate their product from other batches being sold and promote it.

Opium poppies have replaced marijuana as a more marketable product

Although Afghanistan still supplies a large market share of heroin, this newer supply of cheap heroin hitting the streets of America is being traced back to the remote valleys of the Northern Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. Marijuana harvests which used to be a staple at US$100 per kilogram have fallen dramatically to twenty-five dollars. This is due in part to America’s decriminalisation measures on marijuana in several states, and the burgeoning legal domestic market resulting from them. In an effort to supplant these falling profits, farmers have been growing opium poppies and selling the raw opium to middlemen who then go on to produce heroin. The Mexican police regularly conducts raids on these harvests with some success, but there are always some that go undetected in such a vast area.

Getting the younger generation to pay attention to the detrimental effects of heroin and drug experimentation is the key in preventing this epidemic from continuing. For now, it seems that education is the best way forward, since the war on drugs is failing miserably. However, the  U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is responsible for anti-drug ad-campaigns, has had its budget cut – so hopefully Congress will reconsider its funding policies to battle this rising epidemic of heroin addiction.