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NJ's Silent Killer: The Heroin Epidemic in America

Laura Criscione
An epidemic is sweeping the nation and many people may be unaware of its severity, or even its existence. The number of accidental deaths within the United States has skyrocketed over the past decade, and they’re not from gun violence or car accidents. They’re from drugs! Drug poisoning and overdoses now statistically kill more people than guns and car accidents, compared to 20 years ago.[1] Specifically, heroin deaths are increasing nationwide.

According to CBS News, “there were about one million heroin users in the U.S. as of 2014, almost three times the number in 2003. Deaths related to heroin use have increased five-fold since 2000.”[2] Heroin use more than doubled among young adults from ages 18-25 within the past 10 years.[3] So how do these people become addicted to heroin? These victims did not start taking Heroin right off the bat, they most likely started taking opioids, prescription painkillers, which then led up to finding and abusing heroin. Statistics have shown that 45% of those who have used heroin before, were also addicted to prescription opioids.[4] The real war is on opioid painkillers that lead to heroin. Regardless, the numbers show staggering deaths in cities across the country.

The United States is fixated on curing every ailment with pain medication. “The U.S. makes up only 4.6% of the world's population — but we consume 80% of the world's opioids, according to ABC News.”[5]  This conception of curing every ailment with medication has escalated the overuse of drugs. For example, the number of prescriptions for Vicodin shot up back in 2011 from all types of doctors; such as surgeons, podiatrists and primary care physicians.[6] In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids.[7] These extensively numerous prescriptions from doctors are easily leading patients to accidental overdose and addiction. 

Studies have shown that 4 out of 5 new heroin addicts started out abusing prescription painkiller medication prior. Because of this, the numbers of heroin related deaths in the United States almost quadrupled. From 2010 to 2013, the rate of heroin overdose skyrocketed 37% per year.[8] Some states are worse than others; West Virginia, New Hampshire and Kentucky were the states with largest number of death per 100,000 people in 2015.[9] 

Within New Jersey, as everywhere else, the number of deaths have greatly increased within the last decade. Heroin overdose in New Jersey triples the national average. According to, “the 741 heroin-related deaths in 2013 account for 8.3 deaths per 100,000 people in the state, far outpacing the national figure of 2.6 for the same year.”[10] Southern and central Jersey have the highest numbers of heroin overdose deaths. In Camden and the Atlantic counties, this drug kills more people per year than the flu and pneumonia combined. Even more surprising than these numbers are the people who are using them. Statistics have shown that a large percentage of users here are under 30 years old. “Women, white people, adults aged 18 to 25 and people in higher income brackets – historically at low risk for heroin usage – have all been part of the dramatic spikes in abuse of heroin and prescription opioids in recent years.”[11] Across the United States, heroin use among 18-25 year olds has more than doubled between 2002 -2004 and 2011 through 2013.[12]

These numbers show that there is a very serious drug problem within the United States. Many would think that upper class, white young adults would not be involved in such a thing, but this is not true. The ages and demographics of the victims of drug abuse vary across the country, but these numbers show that anyone can get addicted to harmful drugs; whether they started out as a prescription for pain medication or recreational drug use. Millennials are just as susceptible to this as anyone else is. 

By: Laura Criscione 

[1]  Christensen, Jen, and Sergio Hernandez. "This Is America on Drugs: A Visual Guide." CNN. Cable News Network, 14 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. 
[2]  Marcus, Mary. "Heroin Use in U.S. Reaches "alarming" 20-year High." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 23 June 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. 
[3]  "Today’s Heroin Epidemic Infographics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 07 July 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. 
[4]  "Today’s Heroin Epidemic Infographics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[5]  Avila, Jim, and Michael Murray. "Prescription Painkiller Use at Record High for Americans." ABC News. ABC News Network, 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. 
[6]  Avila, Jim, and Michael Murray. "Prescription Painkiller Use at Record High for Americans."
[7] "Today’s Heroin Epidemic Infographics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[8]  "Opioid Painkiller Prescribing." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 01 July 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. 
[9] Christensen, Jen, and Sergio Hernandez. "This Is America on Drugs: A Visual Guide." CNN.
[10]  Stirling, Stephen. "N.J. Heroin Overdose Death Rate Is Triple the Soaring U.S. Rate." N.p., 08 July 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. 
[11]  Stirling, Stephen. "N.J. Heroin Overdose Death Rate Is Triple the Soaring U.S. Rate."
[12] "Today’s Heroin Epidemic Infographics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 


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