The U.S. crack cocaine epidemic of the 80s and 90s was fought with zero tolerance policies and lengthy prison sentences, but as heroin usage has skyrocketed in white communities in recent years, so too has there been a rise in the demand for more compassionate drug policies that seek to treat rather than punish those with addiction.
Doug Griffin of New Hampshire was affected by the problem when his daughter died of a heroin overdose at 20 years old. He commented on the shift in attitude that has been taking place regarding drug addiction, “They’re paying more attention because people are screaming about it. I work with 100 people every day — parents, people in recovery, addicts — who are invading the statehouse, doing everything we can to make as much noise as we can to try to save these kids.”
The heroin epidemic has seen a rise in use among all demographics, but among those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade, 90% were white. This is in large part due to prior rise in prescription drug abuse, particularly with opioids like OxyContin.
According to a CDC report released this year, 96% of those who reported using heroin in the past year had also used at least one other drug. Within the same study it was found that the largest increase in heroin use over the study period (2002-2013) was among users of opioid pain relievers.
In order to meet the growing demand, there has been an associated rise in heroin trafficking from Mexico. Since 2007, heroin seizures by both federal and local law enforcement have increased almost 300%.
New Hampshire has seen one of the sharpest increases in deaths from opioid overdoses, with a rise of 68% between 2013 and 2014 leading to 325 deaths. Medical workers have begun administering naloxone to treat overdose victims, but among the nearly 100,000 people that need treatment in the state, only 4% are able to obtain it due to insufficient resources.
As the problem has increased in prevalence, it has also come to the attention of the 2016 presidential candidates. Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina have all shared their thoughts and plans to address the problem.
Citizens like Griffin have already pushed for new legislation to address the issue, leading to the passage in June of a bill that gives access to naloxone for friends and family of addiction sufferers. There are also 32 states that have already passed versions of “good Samaritan” laws that bar from prosecution those who report drug overdoses.