The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has highlighted the resurgence of heroin use and overdoses in the US. Heroin use doubled between 2007 and 2012. Between 2006 and 2010, there was also a 45% increase in lethal overdoses, up to more than 3,000 deaths per year. The death toll continues to grow, and includes more than 80 deaths over the past few weeks as a result of heroin laced with fentanyl.

The rise in heroin use may be linked with the prevalent use of oxycontin and other opiate-based prescription drugs. The crackdown on illicit use of prescription opiates makes them more expensive, and more users have turned to heroin.
Anti-drug campaigns and moral panics in the media may actually have the unintended effect of promoting, not reducing, substance abuse. In fact, a minority of interviewed users reported seeking out the stronger batches of heroin reported in the media.
Solutions to these problems often focus more on treatment and harm-reduction than tough enforcement of drug laws.

For more on harm-reduction approaches, see this recent Public Criminology post.


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