Fifty years ago, the average first-time heroin user was a 15-17 year old African American male. Today the average heroin user is an early 20's Caucasian female from a middle class neighborhood. The typical user has changed as the opiate epidemic has spread across the country. The major cause of this change is the painkiller problem affecting our country. Doctor's are quick to write out prescriptions, and there is no shortage of users ready to take them.
Researchers looking into opiate abuse see first hand the increase of the drug in middle and upper class neighborhoods. What starts out innocently as a prescription for a pain medication for a common ache or pain is turning people into full blown heroin addicts. Painkillers are the new gateway drug that is opening up the door to heroin. A lot of users of opiates use to help "numb" their feelings and emotions. The euphoria one receives from opiates can feel extremely comforting which is leading a lot of people to "self medicate" with painkillers.
Opiate painkillers up to this point were easy to get. With the increase in abuse, doctors and pharmacists are keeping an eye on people they suspect to be abusing the pills. With Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs being setup, and pills mills being shut down, it's getting harder for addicts to get their hands on painkillers. When opiates become too hard to get, or too expensive to get, addicts are looking for alternatives. Many addicts are making the switch from prescription painkillers to it's cheaper cousin, heroin.
The problem with opiates is that tolerance builds quickly. People that started out taking 1 or 2 pills a day soon find themselves taking 10 or more. With the street value going for about $1 per mg, a 20mg pill can easily fetch $20 on the street. With people taking 10 or more pills a day that's almost a $1500 week habit. Middle class and even upper class soon find that habit hard to afford which is when they switch over to heroin. A $1500 a week painkiller habit may only cost a few hundred dollars in heroin. It gives the same euphoric feeling at a cheaper price, but more deadly consequence. The problem is tolerance builds the same with heroin, but the major problem is that all heroin is different. Some batches or bags may be more potent easily leading to an overdose. What was once seen as a "mans" drug has now taken a hold of women. Fifty years ago, only 20% of heroin users were female. Today, female heroin users make up 52%! What is a huge increase that is and should be alarming to everyone.X