Many people turn to heroin because it’s a cheaper alternative to prescription opioid painkillers, and it’s often easier to obtain. In fact, a 2014 JAMA Psychiatry study of people receiving treatment for heroin addiction found that three out of four people who started abusing opioids in the 2000s said that their first opioid was a prescription painkiller.
The low cost and high availability of heroin are important factors in a person’s decision to start using the drug. But when addiction takes hold, the true costs of heroin become evident.
Most individuals addicted to heroin use the drug daily, which substantially raises the expense — and it’s not just their wallet that takes a hit. Heroin addiction carries tremendous personal and societal costs.
The retail price of heroin varies by geographic region, but it generally costs about $5 to $10 for a “stamp bag,” a waxed paper or plastic bag stamped by the dealer with a name or brand. These bags usually contain about one-tenth of a gram of heroin.
In some cities, heroin can cost $15 to $20 a bag. That’s still considerably cheaper than a single 80-milligram OxyContin tablet, which costs about $80 on the street. Oxycodone can range in price from $30 to $40 for a 15- or 30-milligram tablet.
Heroin doesn’t stay inexpensive for long, though. The illegal opioid is extremely addictive, and when addiction takes hold, an individual can easily spend $150 to $200 a day on the drug. At that rate, a heroin addiction could easily cost someone more than $53,000 a year.
People who become addicted to heroin bear more than just a financial burden. The drug often takes over a person’s life, and everything else takes a back seat.
Relationships with friends and family are usually the first things to suffer. People with a heroin addiction often pull away from friends and loved ones. Sometimes, this is because they are trying to keep their drug use a secret — but it can also happen simply because heroin becomes their main focus.
Using heroin also puts people at risk of losing custody of their children.
The nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic, in fact, has caused a surge in the number of children entering the already overburdened foster care system. Foster care placements rose by 23 percent in 2017 in Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by the heroin crisis.
In 2014, Vermont’s Department for Children and Families found that opiates were a factor in 80 percent of children under age 3 who were taken into state custody, according to the Burlington Free Press.
Cindy Walcott, deputy commissioner for the family services division of DCF in Vermont, told the Burlington Free Press that parents who use heroin put their children’s lives in danger.
“Those parents are highly unlikely to be able to prioritize the needs of the child over their need for the drug,” she said.
The profound physical effects of heroin also make it difficult to function at work or school. Cloudy thinking, fatigue and other signs of heroin use cause a decline in performance. Symptoms of withdrawal can lead to frequent absences.
Eventually, many people with heroin addiction are unable to hold down a job.
Heroin takes an enormous toll on one’s health.
With continued use, people develop physical dependence on the drug and require larger amounts to feel good and avoid heroin withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin use can lead to numerous health problems ranging from infections of the skin and heart to liver disease, kidney disease and IV-related infections such as hepatitis and HIV. People also run the high risk of experiencing a heroin overdose, which can be fatal.
April Carpri, a 34-year-old Alabama woman, lost everything to heroin, according to a Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article.
At one time, Carpri was married and cared for her young daughter. She had a brand new home and seemed to love her job as a social worker at a treatment center for people addicted to opioids.
Then she met a man who introduced her to heroin. Carpri quickly became addicted to the drug, and her life began to unravel.
She left her husband, lost custody of her daughter and was arrested.
On July 31, 2017, Carpri overdosed and died from a fatal mix of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol. Days after her death, the coroner couldn’t locate her next of kin, according to the Alabama news site AL.com.
Supporting a $50,000-a-year heroin addiction isn’t easy, particularly when someone isn’t well enough to work. That’s why some people will pawn their possessions, steal or even resort to prostitution to fund their heroin addiction.
These behaviors, combined with buying and using an illegal substance, can lead to arrests and incarceration. In Florida, for instance, possession of heroin is a third-degree felony that can result in a sentence of up to five years in prison, $5,000 in fines and a suspended driver’s license.
If a person sells, manufactures or distributes heroin — or intends to do that — the offense becomes a second-degree felony, which is punishable with 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, a suspended driver’s license and fine costing up to $10,000. Possession of more than 10 grams of heroin is a first-degree felony that is punishable with 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Lawyers’ fees will push the tab of a heroin-related arrest even higher — and having a criminal record can have lifelong repercussions, making it hard to get certain types of jobs.
Society bears a tremendous financial burden for heroin addiction.
The overall price tag for heroin addiction in the United States was an estimated $51.2 billion in 2015, according to a 2017 study in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
These economic costs include treating people for diseases caused by needle-sharing and caring for newborns suffering from withdrawal because their mothers used heroin while pregnant.
Withdrawal in newborns is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. The number of babies born with this excruciating syndrome tripled between 1999 and 2013, according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other heroin-related costs include lost work productivity, incarceration costs and medical costs, including heroin treatment.
Individually, the societal cost of heroin addiction amounted to about $50,800 per heroin user — or nearly $75,000 for those who end up incarcerated.
The authors of the PLOS ONE study concluded that a tremendous amount of money would be saved if heroin addiction was addressed as an illness requiring treatment rather than as a crime.