The resurgence of heroin in the United States

Following the recent death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, there is a renewed focus on drug addiction and more specifically, heroin abuse. While I support these efforts, the fact that the epidemic of addiction in the United States only receives attention when prominent figures are involved is sickening. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 105 people die of drug overdose in the U.S. every day, and approximately 7,000 individuals are treated in emergency rooms for health complications resulting from drug abuse or misuse.

A 2012 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that 6.8 million Americans abuse prescription pills. With the government cracking down on making opioids like oxycodone and Vicodin harder to obtain, people have turned to heroin, which has similar properties, as a substitute. Eighty percent of heroin users have abused pills prior to trying heroin.

Heroin is one of the most physically addictive drugs on the market. Users rapidly develop tolerance to the drug, forcing them to take more of it in order to achieve the same sensation. It is also incredibly cheap and easy to obtain. A study by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality reported that with $30 in New York, one could score a single oxycodone pill or six hits of heroin. For people looking to get the most out of their money, choosing heroin is a no-brainer.

The public holds a hypocritical stigma regarding drug abusers. “Stereotypical” addicts generally receive no mercy from the public; they are seen as depraved, hedonistic individuals who deserve whatever agony their addiction brings them. This starkly contrasts with the sympathetic attitude that people take when socially prominent figures suffer from addiction, such as Hoffman or Heath Ledger, who died from an overdose in 2008.

“The stereotypes don’t match reality,” Stanford University professor of psychiatry Keith Humphreys said. “Most people who have drug problems also have jobs … [It’s] affecting all layers of American society.”

It’s mind-blowing that people can be so compassionate toward celebrity addicts yet so cold and indifferent toward “regular” individuals struggling with addiction.

I don’t care what economic status, race or gender an addict is; the fact remains that they are human beings – just like you and me  – and they are struggling in their own personal hell. In an article for The Blade, columnist Keith C. Burris examines this human element of addiction that so many people seem to overlook.

“There is no policy panacea,” Burris said. “We are dealing with the mysteries of the heart.”

People turn to drugs for many reasons: to numb pain, to escape their problems or to find a kind of solace, if only temporarily. While obviously not everyone turns to drugs as a coping mechanism, plenty of humans have felt that sense of hopelessness before – to be lost in their own pain. So why do we not have a more compassionate attitude toward addicts?

We are all humans, and every single human on this planet has their own struggles and demons to fight. We as a society need to stop treating addicts with condescension and contempt and start opening our hearts to them.

If people were kinder to those struggling with addiction, they would be more open to getting help for their problems. Who wants to admit to something that they know they’ll be ostracized for? If more people felt that others were there to support them, they’d have a better chance of beating the disease of addiction.