What is the Scope of Heroin Use in the United States?

Cooking Heroin
Heroin Use Is Up Sharply. © Getty Images

Question: What is the Scope of Heroin Use in the United States?

Answer: Note: This article reports the latest available data (2012) on estimated heroin use in the United States. However since 2012, a surge in new heroin use has been reported, blamed on a crackdown on prescription drug abuse that caused widely abused pain pills to become scarce and prices to soar. Reportedly, this drove prescription drug abusers to turn to heroin because it's cheaper and available.

The number of past-year heroin users has been on the rise since 2006. In 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported an estimated 669,000 past-year heroin users.

That increase was mainly driven by young users in the 18 to 25 age group.

In 1998, there were 81,000 new users of heroin reported by the NSDUH. By 2006, that number of first-time users had risen to only 90,000. But, by 2012 the number of people initiating first use of heroin soared to 156,000 - a level the National Institute on Drug Abused terms "unacceptably high."

Among younger users - adolescents still in school - heroin use has dropped. The annual Monitoring the Future survey reported heroin use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders at an all-time low in 2013, at less than 1%. The marijuana use in that age group, however, has risen dramatically.

Additionally, from 2002 until 2012, the number of people diagnosed for heroin dependence or abuse doubled from 214,000 to 467,000.

Traditionally, heroin use has been mostly concentrated in urban areas of the United States, but many suburban and rural communities are reporting significant increases in the amount of the drug seized by law enforcement and the number of overdose deaths due to heroin use.

But heroin use in urban areas is also on the increase, especially among the 18-25 age group. Young people in that age range who sought treatment for heroin abuse increased from 11% in 2008 to 26% in the first half of 2012.

When the next NSDUH statistics are released, the number of current and past-year heroin users is expected to rise sharply, due to the trend in prescription pain pill abusers switching to heroin because it is cheaper and more available.

Figures from law enforcement officials concerning increased confiscations of heroin and reports from health officials about increases in the number of people being treated for heroin overdose, are indications that the use of heroin is increasing at an alarming rate in the U.S.

Back to: Heroin FAQ


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Heroin." Research Report Series Updated January 2014

The Partnership at DrugFree.org. "Heroin." Drug Guide. Accessed March 2014.

Was this page helpful?