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Heroin is more common than ever, and users aren't who you think

Last year, the Colorado Springs Police Department Metro Vice, Narcotics & Intelligence (MVNI) division reported that it seized more than seven pounds of heroin off of Colorado streets. The report is solid evidence of a truth legal and health care professionals have come to understand: that Colorado is not exempt from the recent surge in heroin use the United States is experiencing.

While it is difficult to tell exactly how many people in our state are using heroin, there is evidence that use is increasing, and that the demographics are changing. People typically think of heroin as an inner city drug, but statistics show that today's users don't fit that profile. Heroin use in Colorado and elsewhere in the United States is increasingly becoming a problem among young (age 18 to 25), typically-white suburbanites.

What are the experts seeing? In addition to the large amount of heroin seized by the police, more people are seeking medical help related to heroin use. In 2014, 45 percent of young people seeking treatment for substance abuse in Colorado sought help for heroin, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services. At the same time, emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to heroin also increased for young people.

Many experts speculate that the increase in heroin use is tied to prescription drug use. Young people who try heroin often start with prescription drugs like Vicodin or OxyContin. When their supply of prescription drugs is cut off or when prescription drugs became too expensive, they turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative.

It may seem counterintuitive, but heroin can be easier for users to obtain because it is illegal. Legal prescription drugs have become very tightly controlled in recent years, and doctors are less willing to prescribe them. At the same time, heroin has become more available-much of it imported to Colorado from Mexico.

Parents and other caretakers may be shocked to discover that someone they love is using heroin. Often, they discover it after an arrest. If someone you love is facing legal trouble related to heroin use, get support. Reach out to professionals who can help you and your family cope with the grief and worry you may be experiencing.

An experienced professional can help you decide what to do. Heroin addiction is a challenging and life-changing situation for any young person, but it is possible to recover. Many young people do put heroin-related arrests behind them and move forward to live fulfilling lives.

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