Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from an apparent heroin overdose underscores the drug’s resurgence, fueled by a growing supply from Latin America and a crackdown on prescription narcotics that has prompted addicts to seek old-fashioned alternatives, reports the Wall Street Journal. The number of U.S. heroin users jumped 80 percent to about 669,000 in 2012 from 373,000 in 2007, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Annual overdose deaths from heroin hit 3,094 in 2010, up 55 percent from 2000, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unlike the heroin scourge of the 1960s to early 1980s, concentrated in urban centers, today’s epidemic is ravaging suburbs and rural areas as well. At the National Institute on Drug Abuse last month, 17 of 20 researchers from across the U.S. reported heroin as their top emerging issue, said James Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities. “Heroin doesn’t have any sort of geographic or demographic boundaries,” said Rusty Payne of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It touches pretty much every segment of society.” A big factor behind the heroin comeback are prescription pain-pill addicts who switched to heroin as the pills became “too expensive or less accessible,” said Gil Kerlikowske, White House drug czar. Heroin is cheaper yet part of the same family of drugs as oxycodone and other opioids.