Why are we seeing such a devastating, and growing, heroin epidemic across America?
Many researchers have linked the burgeoning heroin epidemic of today to the rise in the prescription and abuse of opioid analgesics (prescription pain relievers), which began back in the 1990s. Those who are dependent on prescription opioids are 44 times more likely to become dependent on heroin.
Across the U.S., the number of unintentional overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers alone have quadrupled since 1999. America has become the largest consumer of prescription opioids, which rose from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013. Today, America accounts for nearly 100% of the global prescriptions of hydrocodone (Vicodin) and 81% of oxycodone (Percocet). Read more about these concerning trends on the National Institute of Health's website.
What are the most commonly abused prescription medications?
Check our Opioid Facts page for more information on commonly abused prescription medicines.
How do I dispose of extra prescription opioids I have in my medicine cabinet?
Prescription opioids and medicines are considered hazardous waste and need to be disposed accordingly. Your local police department will take back prescription medicines. Some community organizations participate in “prescription take-back days” throughout the year to promote proper disposal of prescription medicines.
How is heroin used?
Heroin can be injected, smoked, sniffed or inhaled. The most common mode in the US is injection. It can be injected intravenously (in the vein), intramuscularly (in the muscle), or subcutaneously (injecting right under the skin, known as”skin popping”). Intravenous injection grants the quickest and strongest high. Heroin is often mixed with water, heated up in a “cooker” (like a spoon or metal bottle cap), filtered through a cotton ball, and then injected in the bloodstream with a syringe (often an insulin syringe, which can vary in size).
Why are people who use heroin especially vulnerable to contracting HIV and hepatitis C?
The greatest risk factor for the transmission of infections is the sharing of injection equipment. At every point of the injection process bodily fluid are coming into contact with the materials used to inject. If these materials are shared with another person (instead of the use of new and sterile equipment), they can easily pass along germs, viruses and infections to the next person. The sharing of syringes is the most common mode of transmission of HIV and hepatitis C because blood will be left on the needle and in the barrel of the syringe. It is incredibly important that users do not share their injection equipment. Even snorting and smoking equipment is susceptible to carrying infections.
Beyond HIV and hepatitis C, injection drug use puts individuals at risk of other infections. Injection can also result in open wounds, further increasing risk of infection. A complete list of possible infections from injection drug use can be found at Rehabs.com.
Is it possible to reverse an overdose?
Yes! Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a revolutionary medicine that will reverse an opioid overdose, almost immediately. Community organizations will often hold Narcan trainings where you will learn how to recognize and respond to an overdose with Narcan (you will also receive your own Narcan kit). Learn more here.
What is Narcan?
Narcan, or naloxone, is a medicine that reverses opioid overdoses by knocking off drugs from the opioid receptors on your brain, leading to revival. It only works for opioid overdoses and has no harmful side effects, even if the person wasn’t overdosing. Learn more here.
Can I get into legal trouble for using Narcan?
No. The Good Samaritan Law protects both you and the person who overdosed from prosecution– but only if you call 911. The law states that the police cannot press charges or prosecute even if:
- There is up to 8oz of controlled substances at the scene,
- There is underage drinking occurring at the scene,
- There is any quantity of marijuana (no maximum limit),
- There is drug paraphernalia at the scene, or
- There is drug sharing at the scene.
However, there are a few exceptions. You are not protected if:
- There are more than 8oz of controlled substance at the scene,
- There is a violation of probation or parole,
- There are open warrants for your arrest,
- There is a sale, or an intent to sell, controlled substances.
Where can I get Narcan?
You can get Narcan at various Narcan trainings held throughout the community. Upcoming Narcan trainings are listed here. You can also buy Narcan at the pharmacy.
What are the different options for addiction treatment and recovery?
Check out our Addiction Treatment Options page to learn more.
What treatment options are offered in a private practice setting?
Medication-assisted treatment, such as buprenorphine and vivitrol, can be offered in the privacy of your doctor's office and does not always require one to enter an inpatient or outpatient practice. For example, buprenorphine (also known as Suboxone) is a medication that treats opioid dependency and is offered by both recovery centers and independently licensed physicians. One downside to being prescribed buprenorphine from a private practice setting is that, oftentimes, prescribers do not accept insurance; thus, patients must pay out of pocket.
Rockland Connects put together a database of buprenorphine prescribers in Rockland County, with notes as to whether the prescriber accepts insurance or taking any new patients. You can download it here.
RECOVERY & TREATMENT
What is harm reduction?
Harm reduction refers to tips and strategies to reduce the harms associated with risky behaviors. In everyday life, harm reduction takes the forms of: bullet proof vests for law enforcement, condoms to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, and even decaffeinated coffee or sugar-free soda.
When it comes to supporting people who use drugs, harm reduction provides education and tools to help minimize the harms associated with drug use (regardless of one’s stage in recovery). Harm reduction is a person-centered, public health approach that seeks to address the multiple needs of individuals through evidence-based interventions. This could take the form of: narcan distribution to prevent fatal overdose, access to sterile injection equipment to prevent the spread of life-threatening infections, using a designated driver to reduce the chance of motor accidents, and more. Click here to read more about harm reduction from the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Does giving Narcan to active users increase risky drug use (since people will know that, or plan for, someone to save them in case they overdose)?
A study came out in 2017 that showed that giving narcan kits to active heroin users does not increase risky drug use behavior.
Shouldn’t people just go into treatment?
Of course! But it isn’t always easy to do and they need to be alive to get there. Treatment with methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone®) maintenance is very powerful at preventing overdoses from happening in the first place. (Courtesy of Harm Reduction Coalition).
What is a syringe exchange program?
Today, most pharmacies sell hypodermic needles without a prescription for people who need them; additionally, there are many community organizations that distribute needles for free, called syringe exchange programs. The purpose of these efforts is to provide people who inject drugs with sterile equipment to reduce their chances of getting HIV, hepatitis C, and other life-threatening infections such as endocarditis (infection of the heart). Without proper access to sterile injection equipment, people might resort to sharing needles or reusing them – which can be very dangerous.
Syringe exchange is an evidence-based intervention with many perks:
- They reduce the spread of infections: Studies show that communities that have introduced syringe exchange programs have seen dramatic decreases in HIV incidence by reducing needle sharing and reuse.
- They decrease drug use and link people to treatment: Evidence also shows that syringe exchange does not increase drug use nor increase the initiation of drug use; in many cases, studies have found a decrease in drug use as these programs often serve as a bridge to treatment for people who use.
- They do not lead to increases in crime: evidence shows that syringe exchange programs does not increase crime rate, and can even be traced to decreases in crime rates in some communities.
- They promote public safety: These programs are integral to getting syringes off the streets and increasing proper disposal of syringes, further decreasing the risk of unintended needle sticks.
Submit A Question
Got a question of your own? Ask us and we will answer it.