The Increase in Heroin Use Among Affluent Individuals

The face of heroin addiction in the United States has changed dramatically since the heroin addiction wave that struck the country in the 1970’s. Heroin addiction remains a problem among people in lower socioeconomic classes, but an increasing number of heroin addicts are now in the middle and upper classes of American society. Several factors have combined to extend the heroin addiction epidemic into the world of affluence.

The factor that is most often cited is the dramatic rise in the number of prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers, such as Oxycontin. American physicians wrote more than 200 million prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers in 2013, and that number continues to rise. Americans from middle- and upper-class backgrounds are more likely to carry health that initially covers their painkiller prescriptions and physicians rarely hesitate to write those prescriptions, knowing that they will be covered and filled by insurance.

Physicians and pharmacists typically warn their patients about the dangers of opiate addiction, but those warnings are often ignored or discounted. When a patient’s prescription expires, he or she may have ready access to a friend’s or family member’s supply. When all of those supplies dry up, the patient turns to street suppliers of heroin. Opiate painkillers, like all opiate products, cause significant changes to a person’s brain chemistry which, if not managed, will lead to the intense cravings that drive addicts to satisfy their needs with heroin.

The second factor that has increased heroin problems among affluent individuals is the ready availability and lower cost of heroin from new suppliers in Central and South America. Mexican drug cartels have discovered that heroin is more lucrative than other drugs, and their geographic proximity to the American market makes it cheaper and easier for them to supply that market. Those suppliers have also increased production of “brown” heroin that can be smoked or snorted, unlike “black tar” heroin which users had to inject. The real price of a gram of heroin has fallen by more than half within the past thirty years. Affluent Americans have the resources to pay for the product and their physicians have inadvertently fostered an opiate addiction, leading to the increase in heroin addiction among American society’s upper classes.

Although the dangers of heroin are generally acknowledged, heroin use has also grown to be more socially accepted. Celebrity deaths from heroin overdoses, including the deaths of Oscar winner, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Glee star, Cory Monteith, have not diminished heroin’s appeal among the celebrity set. In Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiography of her solo hike on the Pacific Coast Trail, the author acknowledges her early struggles with heroin but says little else about overcoming her addiction. Casual readers may get an impression that heroin addiction can be readily overcome with a similar solo effort. According to Ambrosia Treatment Center, the reality for most heroin addicts is that a team of physicians, counselors and support groups will be needed to effect a full recovery from opiate and heroin addiction. In many cases, this life-saving treatment is fully covered by private insurance.

If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s use of opiate painkillers or heroin, please call the help hotline at (888) 492– 5288 for instant support and answers.