For the first time in our nation’s history, you are more likely to die of a heroin overdose than as a victim of gun violence. Guns are a part of American culture. From the days of the revolution, guns have been prized by many as collector’s items, hunting tools, and an essential part of protection. Many people disagree, citing the dangers of guns and undeniably excessive gun homicides that happen in our country every year. It’s a love-hate relationship, and the debate between Second Amendment rights and protecting the safety and lives of citizens will likely rage for years to come. Heroin abuse is a less controversial concern- most people can agree that it only ends in pain and suffering for the user and their loved ones. As of this past year, it is also a far more deadly concern. 2015 marked the first year in which heroin abuse killed more people than gun shootings.
Heroin Abuse vs. Gun Violence: The Statistics
2015 was the first year in which more people died from heroin than by guns. A comparison of the impact of heroin abuse and gun violence shows a disturbing trend, in which opiates are killing at higher rates than shootings:
- In 2015: 12,989 people died of an overdose on heroin. 12,979 died as the result of gun violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
- Every day, 78 people die from an overdose on opiates, including heroin as well as legal prescription drugs (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.)
- 36 people were killed per day as the result of gun violence in 2015 (Huffington Post.)
- In 2007, guns killed five times more people than by heroin, meaning that in 8 years, heroin death rates have increased exponentially (Washington Post.)
- Heroin abuse deaths have tripled since 2010 (CDC.)
- People who use heroin often start by using prescription opiates. Since 1999, prescribing rates for opiate medications have quadrupled (CDC.)
Since the late 90s and early 2000s, rates of heroin abuse, addiction, and overdose have steadily increased. In contrast, the overall rate of gun deaths in America has decreased by 31%, according to the Pew Research Center.
Heroin: A Silent Killer
Gun violence consistently makes headlines. Tragic stories about mass shootings and violence in large cities grip the nation’s attention, and fortunately, legislation and awareness programs have begun to address this scourge. Heroin is a more insidious, silent killer. It has infiltrated every community, from the inner city to quiet suburbs, from giant metropolises like Chicago and New York, to tiny towns in Appalachia. As prescription opiates are prescribed on a massive scale, many addicts turn to heroin when their prescriptions are cut off or become too expensive.
On the street, heroin can be bought relatively cheaply and easily and has become a deadly alternative for many users. Increasingly strict regulations on prescription opiates have helped reduce the number of an accidental overdose on legal medications, but have forced many addicts to turn to drugs bought on the street. Street heroin is illegal and unregulated. This means that much of it is “cut” with cheaper chemicals. Adding cuts or fillers to heroin allows dealers to increase their supply and turn a bigger profit, but the consequences are often fatal. Heroin mixed with fentanyl and carfentanil, two synthetic opiates, has claimed the lives of thousands of addicts. These chemicals are made cheaply and easily in illegal labs across the globe and trafficked into the United States where they make the already dangerous supply of heroin even more deadly. Ohio has been the center of the epidemic of heroin overdoses. In 2016, 174 people overdosed on heroin in less than a week in Cincinnati. The trend is mirrored in many towns across the Rust Belt, which has been hit especially hard by the epidemic, but it’s happening in every state in the nation. Heroin has become a tragic reality for every neighborhood in America.
Heroin Abuse in the Future
With the current rates of heroin use climbing, the future may look bleak. It’s true that heroin addiction has become the modern health crisis of our generation, but people are starting to respond and take action. Last week, Congress passed a bill that designated one billion dollars towards fighting opiate addiction. The money will be used to fund treatment and prevention programs and requires insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health issues like addiction. Many states have passed Narcan access laws and Good Samaritan laws. Narcan is an opiate reversal drug that can save the lives of addicts who have overdosed, and it is becoming more widely available in the US. Good Samaritan laws guarantee that people who call 911 to report an overdose will not be arrested. This law protects addicts who are using together, who may hesitate to call an ambulance for a friend who overdosed because they are afraid of being taken to jail.
The ultimate solution to the crisis is an effective treatment for the addict. Heroin injures and kills people every day. It leaves families in mourning and robs people of their potential to lead full and happy lives. At Discovery Institute, we treat all aspects of addiction at every stage, from detox to aftercare. If you need help fighting an addiction to heroin, our staff can help. Confidential phone calls can be made at 888-616-7177.