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Heroin Use Statistics

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Aug 14, 2023 • 6 cited sources

Heroin remains a dangerous drug in the U.S., and it can easily lead to fatal overdose. 

Heroin comes from many countries into the US. The biggest source is likely still Mexico, where it is produced from poppy plants. Heroin use is involved in a significant portion of opioid-related deaths, although many opioid deaths are now attributed to Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. 

It can take a long recovery process to manage opioid use disorder related to heroin use. Relapse is often part of the overall journey to recovery from regular heroin use. 

Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin is an opiate produced by processing poppy plants, the source of all non-synthetic opioids. It’s estimated that about 90% to 94% of heroin consumed in the United States is trafficked through Mexico.[1] Most is smuggled through one of the 48 official land crossings from Mexico into the United States. Some may also come from Central America, although other drugs like cocaine seem to be more heavily sourced from this region. 

Another 4% to 6% of heroin consumed in the United States percent comes from Asia, mostly from Afghanistan. This is also where the heroin used elsewhere in the world tends to come from. 

Stats on Heroin Use & Overdose 

It’s estimated almost 20% of all opioid deaths involve heroin, with over 13,000 people dying from a drug overdose involving heroin in 2020.[2] This represents more than 4 deaths for every 100,000 Americans. 

Although there is some evidence that heroin-involved overdose deaths may be decreasing in recent years due to the more ready supply of fentanyl, the number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was almost seven times higher in 2020 than it was in 1999.[2] The U.S. is still undeniably involved in a massive opioid misuse epidemic, with a new wave of synthetic opioids doing unprecedented harm. 

Slightly older data shows the annual average rate of past-year heroin use in 2011 through 2013 was 2.6 per 1,000 persons ages 12 years and older.[3] This represents an overall increase in heroin use of that same age group from 2002 to 2004 (1.6 per 1000). The early 2000s led to a spike in total heroin use and issues related to that increase in use, such as more people becoming addicted to heroin and potentially overdosing on the drug.[3]

Heroin Addiction Treatment Statistics

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests heroin addiction represents a major portion of addiction related hospital admissions. 14% of patients admitted to publicly funded substance abuse treatment programs in 2008 were for heroin. [4]

How Effective Is Treatment for Heroin Use?

Exact data on the rate at which people who complete addiction rehab programs relapse is often limited and difficult to find, but what data is available suggests relapsing during or after treatment is fairly common. A small Irish study showed 91% of 109 patients exiting inpatient treatment for opioid dependence reported a relapse. Of those who relapsed, 59% relapsed within the first week, with experts generally agreeing that relapse becomes significantly less likely the longer a patient avoids drug misuse.[5] Thus relapse is relatively common and is considered a part of the treatment process. 

Many people find data like this understandably discouraging, but the truth is that addiction recovery programs, when based on evidence, can significantly increase the likelihood that a person can regain control over their drug use.[6] 

Evidence shows that the highest rates of successful relapse prevention are among patients who engage in medication for addiction treatment (MAT therapy), which includes a combination of both medications (either Methadone or Suboxone) and behavioral therapies.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

Sources
  1. Four Common Misconceptions about U.S.-bound Drug Flows Through Mexico and Central America. Washington Office on Latin America. https://www.wola.org/analysis/four-common-misconceptions-u-s-bound-drug-flows-mexico-central-america/. June 2017. Accessed December 2022.
  2. Heroin Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/heroin/index.html. June 2022. Accessed December 2022.
  3. Vital Signs: Demographic and Substance Use Trends Among Heroin Users — United States, 2002–2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6426a3.htm. July 2015. Accessed December 2022.
  4. DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/drugfacts_treatmentstats.pdf. March 2011. Accessed December 2022.
  5. Lapse and Relapse Following Inpatient Treatment of Opiate Dependence. Irish Medical Journal. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20669601/. June 2010. Accessed December 2022.
  6. Opioid Addiction Treatment. American Society of Addiction Medicine. https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/publications/asam-opioid-patient-piece_-5bopt2-5d_3d.pdf. 2016. Accessed December 2022.
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