Federal legislators and officials say there is an alarming increase in the amount of heroin being brought into the United States, The Washington Times reports. At a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, legislators called for solutions to this public health crisis.
John Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told legislators that drug runners who work for or with drug cartels in Mexico are responsible for half of the U.S. street supply of heroin. He said heroin is being smoked or snorted by young people who see the drug as “recreational.”
“I’ve been with DEA almost 30 years and I have to tell you, I have never seen it this bad,” he said.
Heroin use rose significantly over the past 11 years, according to a report released in April by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In the past year, 681,000 Americans aged 12 and older used heroin. Most people who used heroin were 26 or older, but an estimated 31,000 teens used heroin in 2013, the report found.
The number of people addicted to heroin rose from 214,000 in 2002 to 517,000 in 2013.
Since 2009, heroin seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border have nearly tripled, as law enforcement seized 2,181 kilograms of Mexican heroin last year alone, according to a subcommittee news release.
The sharp increase in heroin use is partly due to prescription drug abuse, the release notes. Opioid painkillers have a similar effect on the body as heroin. Since heroin is much cheaper than prescription opioids, many people addicted to the pills switch to heroin.
“Once someone is addicted to a prescription opioid, the need to satisfy their addiction outweighs the stigma attached to heroin use,” said Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said in a news release. “Additionally, it is far easier to pay $10 for a dose of heroin than $80 for an oxycodone tablet.”