Although heroin use has been expanding for a decade or more, many communities are just beginning to understand the extent of their own heroin problem. The Dane County Narcotics and Gangs Task Force, which includes personnel in Madison, Wis., reported last year that drug overdoses had risen from 31 in 2007 to 175 in 2011, most due to heroin. In Will County, Ill., just outside Chicago, heroin-related deaths rose from five in 2000 to 53 last year. In Missouri, heroin deaths increased from 69 in 2007 to 244 in 2011 – more than half of them in the age group 15 to 35.
The National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse – St. Louis Area (NCADA), which offers emergency counseling and other services, has seen a dramatic shift in heroin-related calls. Until recently, most came from middle-aged people in poor urban areas. But four or five years ago, that changed. “They were mostly from youth, which was shocking to us,” says Dan Duncan, director of community services. “And they were coming from the suburbs. In 2010, it just seemed to explode.”
Heroin use is still relatively modest. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.7 percent of Americans had recently taken illicit drugs, mostly marijuana and cocaine. Only a quarter of 1 percent over the age of 12 said they had used heroin. But heroin raises additional concerns because, like other opiates, it is considered powerfully addictive and difficult to give up.