Why is Heroin Use on the Rise Again?

Why is Heroin Use on the Rise Again?

The Odyssey House, NSW’s largest rehabilitation clinic, has seen a 3 fold increase in “heroin addicted patients” with a 165% increase in heroin related admissions over the past year.

According to an article in SBS.com, it is estimated there are tens of thousands of regular heroin users in Australia. As Luke Water asks in this article, is this increase in heroin use temporary or is this spike evidence of a “longer-term trend” taking us back to the heroin epidemic of the 90’s?

It is well recognised that methamphetamine use and the war on ice is a great concern in Australia. However, is all this media hype about ice distracting us from the fight against other possibly even more deadly illicit drugs like heroin?

James Pitts, CEO of the Odyssey House seems to think so when he said “the huge increase in people seeking our help for dependence on opioids like heroin is a very worrying trend.”

Is the Rise in Prescription Drug Addiction Playing a Part?

As with most illicit drugs, supply and demand play a big role in drug use. According to Sydney’s The Cabin, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has resulted in the Taliban once again pressuring local farmers into growing heroin producing poppy crops instead of food staples like wheat and corn.  However, with no demand there would be no pressure to ramp up supply. According to the, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “opium cultivation has increased,” so where has this increased demand for opiates come from?

Supply is not the only reason “drug users [are] switching to heroin.” Addiction to prescription drugs like oxycodone is another factor. In Australia data from a PubMed study shows a 180 per cent increase in Oxycodone prescriptions from 2002 to 2009. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has “called prescription drug abuse a national emergency” with Australia ranking second only to the US in the “highest rate of prescription pill addiction.”

Medical professionals are worried that the national spotlight on the ‘ice epidemic,’ has displaced the impact of prescription drug misuse from public consciousness.

The problem according to critics is there is not enough public education on the addictive potential of certain prescription medications. As a result, we are seeing thousands of Australians suddenly having a prescription opiate addiction. Conversely, the price of prescription drugs has increased, which has forced people addicted to prescription opiates to resort to cheaper alternatives to feed their drug addiction such as heroin. As the price of heroin continues to go down, and the price of prescription opiates goes up, more people are likely to switch from prescription opiates to heroin.

Switching drugs depending on price and availability is common, according to James Pitts. If someone addicted to prescription pain killers like oxycodone can no longer source cheap pain meds they will easily switch over to an illicit substance like heroin if it is cheaper and easier to procure.

Are Ice users are getting burnt out from their addiction?

Heroin use is also increasing because ice users are getting “burnt out” from their ice addiction. Methamphetamines and particularly ice are very destructive drugs that cause users to suffer profound psychological side effects like psychosis, paranoia, severe anxiety, and intense restlessness. Often the only way to combat the negative psychological effects from long term ice addiction is by turning to heroin, which is, as Jackson Oppy of the Hader Rehabilitation clinic, says a “very effective anti-psychotic.

Finally, the amount of “people who inject drugs” (PWID) particularly users who inject methamphetamines is increasing exponentially. According to the National Drug and Research Centre over 67 per cent of the PWID interviewed for the Centre’s Annual Illicit Drugs Reporting System (IDRS) reported regularly using crystal methamphetamine in 2015 in the previous six months versus only 39 per cent of users on 2010. The survey data also suggests the proportion of those injecting heroin on a daily basis is increasing nationally.

This means that the more methamphetamine users get comfortable to injecting their drugs, the easier some feel, it will be to transfer over to other drugs that require injection such as heroin. There used to be a stigma around those who inject drugs but with more users people becoming familiar with injection means they will more easily shift over to injecting other types of drugs. Especially drugs that are cheaper and more easily accessible.

Education and Treatment Should be the Focus

Our efforts should focus on the addiction in general because it is addiction that is at the heart of the problem.  One way to combat drug addiction is through early detection and treatment for the addiction. Waiting until someone has been addicted to an illicit substance for a long time or dies from it would be too late.