Heroin’s on the rise again in the U.S. And while it’s re-saturated some urban markets that witnessed major heroin waves in the 70s and 80s’, heroin’s begun creeping into different communities where opiate abuse was historically much lower than the national average. Tonight’s episode of Drugs, Inc. follows a team of drug cops who are hoping to strike a blow against the increasingly popular drug in Memphis, Tenn.
It’s pick-your-poison when it comes to substance use in America – marijuana usage is higher in the Northeast and West, alcohol abuse is more common in the Midwest, tobacco, on average, remains a stubbornly southern trait.
Tennessee’s stats are as bad or worse than national averages. The state bucks geographic drug use trends: between 2007-2008, it was one of the top ten in drug-use categories including past-month illicit drugs other than marijuana for those over 12. In 2010, Tennessee’s overdose death rate was above the national average.
But Tennessee’s real problem is prescription painkillers. According to the Times Free Press, from 2000 to 2010, oxycodone sales in the state increased more than 500 percent, and hydrocodone sales increased nearly 300 percent. Part of this rise is tied to an aging population, but as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found in 2007-2008, Tennessee’s individuals 26 and older were ranked first in America for use of non medical use of pain relievers.
Ripples of abuse can be seen elsewhere. In 2012, CNN reported on a Tennessee health department survey that found that one in three pregnant women in state treatment programs are addicted to prescription pain medication. Individual Tennessee hospitals have found this too – the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital doubled from 2010 to 2011.
Like many other states across the nation, Tennessee inadvertently helped create the perfect circumstances for heroin’s resurgence. According to USA Today, Tennessee physicians took heat for under-prescribing drugs to patients in the early 2000s’. In the decade that followed, doctors flooded the market with prescription pills, particularly painkillers. In response, state laws cut doctor shopping, the technique employed by some prescription painkiller users and dealers to obtain multiple prescriptions for, in half.
Of course, this vacuum created an ideal market for the prescription opiate’s natural substitute. State officials claim that drug cartels filled the void left by Oxycontin with heroin, which is much cheaper and in some places even easier to obtain (with the state’s new prescription database).
Tennessee combines overdose deaths from heroin and painkillers in state statistics, making it difficult to measure the recent wave’s scope and possible damage. But some less overreaching numbers nonetheless could be indicative of a rise in heroin abuse overall. The Washington Times wrote that from 2011 to 2013, there was an increase from 217 to 396 people seeking state-funded, non-private treatment for heroin. Local Tennessee radio station WCYB reported that the number of heroin incidents in the state had more than doubled between 2010 and 2013.
Despite the state’s success in cutting back on doctor shopping, in 2012 Tennessee was in the top three states in America for the ratio of prescriptions written per person, with about 18 prescriptions a year written for every individual in the state.
This worries some state officials and law enforcement, who still see fertile ground for opiate addiction in the near future.