3 reasons why heroin is Colorado's new favorite addiction

3 reasons why heroin is Colorado's new favorite addiction

VicesDecember 17, 2014

Heroin is the official comeback kid of 2014. With usage rates skyrocketing in the last few years, here's why it's made such a tremendous return.

During the 60s and 70s, heroin enjoyed a brief reign of terror as America's most fearsome narcotic. It was big. It was bad. It was everywhere.

But after taking out several major public figures like River Phoenix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, heroin fucked off a little and its usage rates decreased as the 70s turned into the 80s. In the 90s, it was less popular than crack ... which might not be saying that much, cough Whitney Houston, cough.

While it was still an insidious issue during the years you and we were growing up, it kept itself out of the limelight, enjoying a hiatus from ruining lives for a while. It appearied briefly every now and then to murder a beloved musician or actor, but ironically, it was being used less than ever ... Until now.

Due to a unique combination of factors, heroin is back, and the situation is shittier than ever. For the last few years, heroin has been more popular than crack. In 2013, nearly 700,000 Americans took the drug, either by nose or vein, which is twice as many as a decade ago. And with the recent high-profile heroin overdose deaths of celebrities like Philip Seymore Hoffman, Peaches Geldof and and Cory Monteith, it's becoming overwhelmingly clear that heroin is in.

But why the resurgence? Allow us to explain.

1. Prescription opiates are more expensive and harder to get than ever

With 11 million Americans reporting an addiction to them, pharmaceutical painkillers are the most widely abused drugs in the country and are responsible for the highest level of accident-related deaths in most states. However, their well-documented potential for abuse has lead to a number of safeguards being put in place by medical professionals to stop people from misusing them.

As a result, not only have the prices of prescription painkillers shot up to their highest level ever, but doctors now have sophisticated pill tracking systems they can use to see the entirety of a patient's prescription history to find out if someone has been prescribed a drug before, how often, and where. If that data looks like addiction, well, no OxyContin for you. Well played, doctors; prescription drugs, especially painkillers, are harder to get than an STD in a convent.

However, an unintended side effect of this added difficulty is that prescription-pill addicts are turning to heroin to get the same opiate high. And heroin, thanks to its growing abundance has actually become cheaper than pills. Shit, at $4 per dose, a necessary amount of heroin costs no more than a Big Mac.

More than two-thirds of heroin addicts have previously abused prescription painkillers, which is a testament to the degree of ease that heroin can be substituted for pharmaceuticals.

2. Cocaine and weed just aren't what they used to be

Since Americans are consuming less cocaine than they used to, and weed no longer needs to be imported due to widespread medical marijuana legalization, savvy heroin traffickers have been responding to market forces. Suddenly, there are holes in the narcotics market, and today's nefarious rapscallions are looking to fill them. Crackdowns on cocaine and decriminalization of weed have simply made them hone in on heroin.

The rise in heroin consumption is just a product of the coincidence of rising supply at a time of rising demand.

3. Mexican poppy fields are so hot right now. Mexican poppy fields.

Like most drugs in the United States, a majority of heroin comes from Mexico. Thanks to a tenfold increase in the amount of Mexican farmland used to grow opium poppies, there's a abundance of heroin on the market right now. The boom in poppy-grows is largely due to a shift in police attention from drug control to urban peacekeeping in Mexico. Translation: the Mexican government doesn't give a rat's ass about heroin fields right now. Everyone is either getting decapitated or at a Margaritaville in Cancun.

This has lead to an over-supply of heroin, which has created the perfect storm of increasing demand and keeping prices low.

You're probably wondering, "So what does this mean for my weekend?"

Well, for Coloradans, it means a lot.

Colorado has the fifth-highest prescription drug abuse rates in the country, which means it's already equipped with a good number of opiate-dependant people, 5.1 percent of the population to be exact.  As prescription drugs become too expensive for Coloradans, heroin is becoming an increasingly attractive substitute.

In fact, Patrick Fox, deputy director for clinical services of the Office of Behavioral Health in Colorado Department of Human Services, says the state’s heroin problem is part of a bigger problem of opiate abuse, including prescription drugs.

Here's what heroin use looks like in Colorado right now:

  • In Colorado, heroin deaths more than doubled from 37 in 2000 to 91 in 2012. 
  • During the same time, cocaine deaths dropped from 84 to 62, after reaching a peak of 172 in 2006.
  • The number of heroin deaths among people ages 20 to 34 more than tripled.
  • The 25 to 34-year-old group accounted for about a third of the heroin deaths in 2012— 31.
  • In 2012, the problem also grew among 15 to 19-year-olds. While six teens died in the previous 12 years, five teen boys died of heroin overdoses alone in 2012.
  • White people accounted for 81 percent of heroin deaths in 2012.
  • The number of people seeking treatment for heroin in Colorado nearly tripled in the last decade, rising from 1,643 in 1993 to 4,556 in 2013. The biggest growth came in the state’s northeastern corner, where heroin-abuse hospital and rehab admissions grew by more than 16 times from 32 to 524.

So, as you can see, heroin is just as big of a problem for Colorado as it is for the rest of the country. The only thing that can stop it is a fluctuation in the market (like you guys suddenly deciding you need 20 pounds of cocaine like now), or an improvement in drug abuse education and cessation therapy. Until then, look forward to an increasingly diverse cast of heroin-inundated characters on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

The only thing saving us is the fact that medical marijuana was federally decriminalized last weekend. Hopefully people in search of sedation will be able to find comfort in some strong-ass legal weed or edibles, but if not ... there's always the incredibly soothing act of eating an entire pizza to yourself then sleeping for 14 days. We've been on that kick for a while, and boy do we look great to blind people.