Experts agree that the opioid epidemic in the United States is getting worse. Prescription medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin and street drugs like heroin alike contribute to the high number of Americans abusing opioids. Which U.S. state suffers the most from an epidemic of heroin abuse? The question can be answered in a number of ways.
Drug use overall is more prevalent in the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) than in any U.S. state. After D.C., the state with the next-highest prevalence of drug abuse is Vermont. If the numbers are broken down by age group, the state with the highest number of teenage drug users is Colorado, with D.C. and Vermont ranked #2 and #3. However, because recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado, these figures likely reflect marijuana use much more than they reflect opioid numbers. The state with the highest number of opioid prescriptions per 100 people is Alabama.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated opioid use in the United States, Canada, and Mexico to affect approximately four percent of the population. WHO further estimates that for about half of those who used an opioid, that opioid was heroin. While it’s difficult to say exactly which U.S. state has the largest number of heroin users, Vermont is a good candidate for that distinction.
However, the unfortunate title could also be given to West Virginia. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015 the U.S. state with the most deaths by heroin overdose was West Virginia. The rate of death due to heroin overdose was 41.5 people per 100,000. This was significantly higher than the next-highest state, New Hampshire, which saw a rate of 34.3 deaths due to heroin overdose per 100,000 members of its population.
The next three states in terms of the number of deaths attributed to heroin overdose in 2015 were Kentucky, Ohio, and Rhode Island. But although these deaths are located primarily on the Eastern Seaboard, the states that saw the largest increase in heroin overdose deaths between 2014 and 2015 included Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and Washington as well.
Washington D.C.’s Maryland neighbor Baltimore is known to be experiencing a heroin epidemic that has been ongoing since 2000. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that one-tenth of Baltimore’s population has abused heroin. Considering the WHO estimate that about two percent of North Americans have used heroin, that five-times-higher figure is rather shocking.
In terms of human health, quality of life, public resources allocated to the problem, and loss of life, the heroin epidemic is a disaster. Whichever state has the actual highest number of heroin abusers, all states must commit to policies that help heroin abusers deal with their addiction. Otherwise, Americans will continue to lose their lives senselessly.
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