How much do you know about heroin? These 8 interesting facts about heroin will put the opioid and heroin epidemic into perspective.

1. Heroin was supposed to be a cure to opium addiction. It didn’t work.

Heroin (smack, junk, horse, China white, etc.) is a derivative of the poppy plant, as are morphine, codeine and opium. Opium harkens back to ancient Mesopotamia around 3400 BC.

In the late 1700s-early 1800s there was a rampant rise of opium dens and therefore addictions. This led to development of morphine and subsequently heroin, as scientists looked for ways of getting addicts off of opium.

In 1805, morphine and codeine were isolated from opium, with morphine touted as a cure for opium addiction. However, people quickly discovered new dangers in morphine. In an effort to develop a safer alternative to morphine, an English chemist synthesized heroin from morphine in 1874. Bayer Pharmaceutical Company brought Diacetylmorphine (heroin) to the market in 1898.

In the U.S., the first heroin epidemic began after World War II and the second started in the late 1960s, peaking between 1971 and 1977.1 Once considered a hard core street drug that users shot up in back alleys, heroin is now a mainstream drug. Its availability and cheap cost relative to prescription opioids have fueled the third major heroin epidemic in America.

2. Heroin deaths far surpass power plant emission-related deaths.

heroin powder and needles
The latest heroin statistics show nearly 13,000 people lost their lives to overdoses in 2015, an increase of 20.6% from 2014 figures.2 That’s the same number of deaths attributed to power plant emissions in 2010, however, by 2014, there were 7,500 deaths caused by fine particle emissions, which equates to a 57.7% decrease.3

3. More people abuse drugs than the population of Jackson, Mississippi or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

dealing drugs
Recent drug abuse statistics indicate about 329,000 people ages 12 or older were current heroin users in 2015.4 That’s more than half the population of Memphis, Tennessee (652,717), the state’s second largest city.5 It is nearly twice the population of Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s largest city (173,514).6 It is more than the population of Pittsburgh, the second largest city in Pennsylvania (304,391).7

4. The number of heroin users age 26 and older comprises nearly 90% of Nashville.

Nashville on a map
In 2015, 591,000 adults ages 26 and older used heroin in the past year.4 That represents 89.6% of the populous of “Music City” – Tennessee’s largest city with 660,388 residents.5

5. Heroin causes more ER visits than the sport dubbed the National Pastime.

emergency room
Among the most shocking facts about heroin are those that show how common heroin abuse has become.

In 2011, 258,482 people were treated at U.S. hospital emergency rooms for heroin-related causes.8 The same year, 261,632 people were treated at ERs for baseball/softball-related injuries, 248,945 for neck injuries, 240,027 for concussions and 221,465 for ATVs, mopeds and minibikes.9

6. One hit of heroin costs less than a pack of cigarettes.

cigarette pack
The street price of heroin is as low as $5.00 for one hit10. On average, this could buy someone a cheap six-pack of beer or bottle of wine, three 2-liter bottles of soda or five candy bars. That’s not even enough to buy a pack of cigarettes, which average $5.51, but soar to as high as $12.85 in some locales due to taxes. In Tennessee, a pack of cigarettes costs on average, 30 cents more than a $5.00 heroin hit!11

7. The amount of heroin seized in 2013 slightly exceeded the weight of a popular 2013 American-made SUV.

pack of heroin
According to data from the DEA, the amount of heroin seized at the southwest border of the U.S. quadrupled to 2,196 kilograms or 4,841 pounds in 2013. This is 85 pounds heavier than a 2013 Dodge Durano, which weighed in at 4,756 pounds.12,13

8. In 2015, heroin cost the U.S. almost as much as the net worth of the fifth richest man in America.

100 dollar bills
The economic burden of heroin use in the U.S. was estimated at $51.2 billion in 2015.14 That’s more than the current U.S. foreign aid budget of $50.1 billion, but a good deal less than the net worth of the five richest people in America: Bill Gates – $89.8 billion, Jeff Bezos – $86.8 billion, Warren Buffet – $74.9 billion, Mark Zuckerberg – $71.8 billion and Larry Ellison – $61.2 billion.15,16

How’s that for an interesting fact about heroin? As we face this third heroin epidemic, it’s important for everyone to understand how widespread heroin abuse has become. It will take sharing many more interesting (and tragic) facts about heroin.


  1. Origin and History. University of Arizona website. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  2. Heroin Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated January 26, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  3. Death and Disease from Power Plants. Clean Air Task Force website. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  4. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Updated November 7, 2016. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  5. List of largest cities and towns in Tennessee by population. Wikipedia website. Updated May 26, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  6. List of municipalities in Mississippi. Wikipedia website. Updated June 11, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  7. List of cities and boroughs in Pennsylvania by population. Wikipedia website. Updated June 21, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  8. Emergency Department Data. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Updated February 2, 2016. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  9. 2011 NEISS Data Highlights. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  10. This Drug Is Cheaper And More Powerful Than Heroin – And May Be Killing Way More People. Buzz Feed website. Published June 5, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  11. Prices of Cigarettes by State. Fair Reporters website. Published April 3, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  12. Understanding the Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated December 16, 2016. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  13. List of Car Weights. Love to Know website. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  14. Jiang R, Lee I, Lee TA, Pickard AS1. The societal cost of heroin use disorder in the United States. PLoS One. 2017 May 30;12(5):e0177323. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177323.
  15. Simmons A. U.S. foreign aid: A waste of money or a boost to world stability? Here are the facts. Los Angeles Times. May 10, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.
  16. Kirsch N. The 5 Richest Americans Are Already $67 Billion Richer In 2017. Forbes. July 29, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2017.

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