How Heroin Travels in the U.S.—Infographic

Written by Journey Pure Staff

1960s Heroin Use

To understand how heroin travels into the U.S. now, it’s important to understand the drug’s origin. Heroin was first synthesized in 1874 by English chemist C.R. Alder Wright. From the beginning, its intended purpose was for medicinal use. However, like most opioids, heroin soon found its way into the drug sub-culture for recreational use.

Data collected from the 1960s found a reemergence of heroin with 82.8% of users being young men living in urban areas. Of that group, 80% were experimenting with heroin as their first “introduction” to opioids.

Present Day Heroin Use

Flash ahead to the present day, and it is clear the demographic for heroin users have shifted dramatically. Now, 75.2% of heroin users are men and women living outside of those urban settings (Click here to tweet). Most of these users (75%) found their way to heroin by getting hooked on opioids found in prescription painkiller drugs.


Starting in the 60s, the majority of first-time heroin users were in their teens. By 2010, those first-time users were in their early twenties. The percentage of nonwhite versus white heroin users has also shifted dramatically with data that finds 90% of first-time users in the last decade were white.

With regard to the difference between male and female users, there was a great discrepancy in the 60s with far more men using heroin. Today, however, the numbers suggest men and women are using heroin at equal levels.

Causes of Increased Heroin Usage

What are some of the root causes for this shift in heroin use? Despite their prevalence in society, prescription opiates are actually harder to obtain than heroin. Part of that is because of the intense monitoring with prescription use. As a counter to that, most drug users who find a heroin dealer will rarely have any difficulty scoring their fix. The economic laws of supply and demand also have an impact on how easy it is to acquire heroin.

Current trends suggest that heroin is not only increasing in purity, but it is also actually decreasing in price — making it irresistible to someone who is abusing the drug. Finally, there is also a general naiveté with regard to heroin use. Despite the many negative portrayals in pop culture and celebrity deaths associated with overdoses, heroin is still thought of as a “cool high.” Most users aren’t aware of its addictive properties.

How Heroin Travels Into The U.S.

Where is the heroin coming from? The answer depends on where you live. Mexico is the main supplier for the West Coast, while drug cartels from South America have supply lines into the East Coast and Midwest. As for the rest of the world, Southwest Asia fulfills their drug habits. The dealers aren’t limited to a specific mode of transportation. They will use whatever means necessary, even if that requires walking the drugs across the border on foot.

Heroin availability is on the rise. In New England, there is a 67% increase in the level of that heroin availability. In the Mid-Atlantic States, that rate hovers at 65% increase. Bottom line: No place in America can be called a “drug-free zone.” Increased awareness of this epidemic is the first step toward understanding its devastating impact on communities across the country. The next step is to find reputable addiction treatment for loved ones suffering under the powerful influences of heroin. Help is out there.

how heroin travels the u.s. infographic

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