You’ve seen it in movies, on TV, in songs and on the radio. But how much do you really know about the drug called Heroin?

Heroin, as an illicit substance, has been responsible for an incredible amount of damage and expense, both on a community level and a personal one. It’s easy to imagine that a drug as notorious and dangerous as heroin is something only happens to “other people,” so to speak, but recent data compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that more and more instances of addiction are reported by authorities in rural and suburban communities, as well as in urban centers. Due to its relatively low cost and highly addictive nature, heroin is a sadly popular choice regardless of demographic.

But what is heroin?

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First synthesized in 1874, heroin is an opioid—a tar-like or powdery substance derived from the opium poppy—that is used to induce euphoria. It is most often delivered intravenously, though it can also be consumed through through smoking or “freebasing” (that is, heating into an inhalable vapor.) It was originally used for medical applications, and in fact was developed with the idea of creating an analgesic more effective and less addictive than morphine. However, due largely to the potential for abuse, it was declared a Schedule I controlled substance in the US in 1970, which renders its possession illegal for anyone without a DEA license.

Historically, heroin has come into the United States from a few key locations. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan is the primary source of opium poppies, with a majority of manufactured heroin coming from inside the country. The illicit distribution of this heroin is incredibly lucrative, and largely funds criminal organizations including the Taliban. However, since 2004, Mexico has become a close second in terms of production and distribution in the United States, with sales of Mexican heroin directly profiting drug cartels.

The impact that increased production and distribution of heroin has on the rates of addiction are staggering. According to the National Survey on Drug-Use and Health, almost 700 thousand Americans reported using heroin in 2013, a number which has only grown with each passing year. In addition, over 160 thousand people over the age of twelve had used it for the first time in the past twelve months.

It’s easy to keep heroin at arm’s length with facts, ignoring the impact on the American population in general, and your local community specifically. However, by ignoring the very real connections that heroin has between suburban users and criminal, paramilitary organizations, it is easy to forget the direct impact that users have on the success of these groups, not to mention the damage heroin causes to individuals, families, and communities.

With the next column, we’ll discuss the impact that heroin has on a national and governmental scale, and we will begin to examine the impact on a community level. If you have any questions or concerns about use or distribution of illicit substances such as heroin in your community, let us know. Forletta Investigative/Security Consultant can help.