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Rich People and Heroin: The Path to a Deadly Addiction

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Once associated with poor inner cities, heroin use has a new image. It’s the chic drug of choice for some in upper-income brackets in exclusive neighborhoods. In some cases, drug dealers make personal deliveries to these fashionable areas, and they even run specials to attract their young, urban professional clientele.[1]

Large suburban homeIn fact, heroin use is growing in all parts of America, affecting larger numbers of upper-income people as well as more women and non-Hispanic whites. Experts tie the growth to widespread use of opiate painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. As federal and state governments crack down on non-medical use of the prescription drugs, they grow more expensive and harder to find. People already addicted to the pills switch to heroin for a cheaper, easier high.[2]

Researchers looking into the changes in heroin use see new populations trying the drug. As heroin moves into new areas, these communities see more people overdosing on the drugs and requiring emergency medical services. Furthermore, when people shift from painkillers to heroin, they risk many unknowns, including the potency of the heroin and if it contains other toxic chemicals mixed into the drug. Heroin use also leads to more crime as people resort to stealing to pay for drugs.

Recent government reports show heroin use either doubling or more than doubling among women and non-Hispanic whites from 2008 to 2013. Overall heroin use rose 36% during the period. And heroin isn’t the only worrying factor. People report using multiple substances with heroin: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and prescription painkillers. Of the more than 8,250 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2013, nearly 60% included another drug; most often painkillers or cocaine.

The Path to Heroin Addiction

Since many heroin addictions among upper-income professionals do not begin with heroin, it’s important to understand why painkillers are risk factors. Both heroin and painkillers are opiates and they trigger a similar response in the body. Some patients start taking opiate painkillers after an injury or to treat chronic pain, while others experiment with painkillers at a party or with friends. Over time, tolerance builds as they become physically and psychologically dependent, developing an addiction that demands larger doses and stronger drugs.

Many turn to heroin to achieve the high originally experienced on painkillers. If someone shifts to using heroin intravenously, by shooting up with a needle, the addiction becomes more intense. Intravenous drugs affect the body faster, flooding the brain with even more pleasure chemicals. This fast high produces tolerance to the drug more rapidly, requiring more of the drug just to feel normal.[3]

Heroin Addiction is Everywhere

As heroin use pushes into the suburbs and rural areas, more people come into contact with the drug and addiction rates rise. Around 591,000 Americans, or 0.2 percent of the population, reported heroin addictions in 2015, significantly more than the number reported in 2002 through 2010, which averaged around 0.1 percent. In contrast, 2 million reported painkiller addictions in 2015. Addiction experts expect heroin addictions may rise in the future as more addicted people have trouble getting painkillers. More education about the dangers of opiate use is necessary to control current growth rates.[4]

For people who already have an addiction, treatment offers a way to safely withdraw from opiates and learn to manage cravings. As heroin use spreads into new communities, addiction treatment centers must learn to treat users from a variety of cultural backgrounds who have varying beliefs about the drug and who experience feelings of stigma and shame.

Heroin use is an issue that hits the entire community, not just those who develop an opiate dependence. When heroin addiction becomes a problem in any area, crime rates rise and families suffer. Car break-ins, robberies and other crimes increase when more people are in need of cash to finance their addiction.

Heroin Addiction is Highly Treatable

Fortunately, detox and therapeutic addiction treatments are effective. Patients who receive evidence-based interventions immediately stop abusing heroin and start learning how to live a life of wellness and balance. Contact us at Michael’s House now to speak to a counselor about our rehabilitation and sober living programs here in Southern California.

[1] Leger, Donna Leinwand. (2013). OxyContin a gateway to heroin for upper-income addicts. USA Today. Retrieved Apr. 10, 2017 from

[2] Jones, Christopher M.; Logan, Joseph; Gladden, R. Matthew & Bohm, Michele K. (2015). Vital Signs: Demographic and Substance Use Trends Among Heroin Users — United States, 2002–2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved Apr. 10, 2017 from

[3] Volkow, Nora D. (2014). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved Apr. 10, 2017 from

[4] Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved Apr. 10, 2017 from