The use of heroin in the U.S. is skyrocketing, especially in rural areas, with plenty of supply and a shift away from harder to find, more expensive prescription drugs, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Between 2002 and 2011, the number of people who say they have used heroin in the past year jumped 53.5 percent to 620,000, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In 2010, there were 3,094 deaths caused by overdose, which amounted to an increase of 55 percent from 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of the heroin that reaches small towns comes from Mexico, the Journal reported, noting that border seizures have escalated from 487 kilograms in 2008 to 1,989 kilograms in 2012, according to Drug Enforcement Agency records.
In contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, when heroin was prevalent in inner-cities, use of the drug is now spreading throughout rural areas that are ill prepared to handle it. In its report, the Journal cited data analyzed by the Maine Rural health Research Center showing that 93 percent of nationwide facilities that have treatment programs for opioids, a class of pain relief drugs including heroin, are located in metropolitan areas.
Some areas ravaged by the drug are also far from hospital emergency rooms, increasing the risk that use can be fatal.
The proliferation of heroin use is also affecting the workplace. In Marinette, Wis., for example, employers are reportedly having trouble filling job openings because so many applicants are testing positive for the drug.
In addition, a sharp rise in heroin-related crime has fueled an increase of 31 percent in the inmate population at the local jail in Marinette over the past two years, jail administrator Bob Majewski told the Journal.
Some parts of rural Kentucky are also "experiencing heroin literally for the first time," Bill Mark, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, told the newspaper. He said 28 of the state's 120 counties logged heroin arrests last year for the first time since data started being collected on statewide use in 2008.
Heroin use in Huntington, West Virginia, a city of around 50,000, is typical of what's happening across the country. Heroin became the top drug problem there about six months ago, according to the police chief Skip Holbrook.
The drug "transcends all areas of our town," he said. "It is absolutely the most pressing issue that we face."
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