An Epidemic of Drug Abuse
While drug abuse and addiction is a problem across the United States, certain cities are more affected than others. Nationwide, more than 23 million Americans experience dependence on drugs, from alcohol to cocaine, prescription pain killers to marijuana. Along with these numbers, the presence of a “treatment gap” means that, though 21.6 million people are in need of drug treatment, only 2.3 million — or less than 1 percent — actually received the treatment they needed.
In the cities most affected by drug abuse, these numbers represent a much higher percentage of the local population. Not surprisingly, some large urban areas are on the list, but many smaller cities are plagued with the problem, as well. From coast to coast, these cities are experiencing an epidemic of drug abuse.
Baltimore, Maryland is home to more heroin users than any other American city, giving it the unfortunate nickname of America’s Heroin Capital. Some estimate that as many as one in 10 Baltimore residents are addicted to the drug. In a city of 645,000, that means that about 60,000 people use heroin regularly.
In 2006 alone, 184 heroin users died from overdose. This coastal city serves as a hub for drug traffickers, many of whom import black tar heroin from South American through Baltimore on its way to distribution across the eastern United States. When heroin is injected, it also increases the rates of diseases such as HIV that are related to intravenous drug use. Along with the prevalence of heroin use comes drug-related crime; the Drug Enforcement Administration says that Baltimore has the highest heroin-related crime rates in the United States.
Espanola, New Mexico
The city of Espanola, New Mexico, leads the country in drug overdose deaths. Though this small city has only 10,000 residents, federal statistics show that it records 42.5 drug-related deaths for every 100,000 deaths. The national average is a considerably lower 7.3 drug-related deaths per 100,000 deaths.
Heroin is the drug of choice for many users in Espanola. In an effort to get the problem under control, the state passed a law that grants immunity to anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose, even if they’ve been using illicit drugs, too. The health department also distributes Narcan nasal spray, an overdose treatment, in attempts to reduce the amount of deaths.
Surveys taken by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the mid-2000s indicated that Missoula, Montana, may have the highest rates of illicit drug use in the country. As many as 13.8 percent of residents indicated that they’d used illicit drugs within the past 30 days.
For several years, Missoula has faced an epidemic of methamphetamine use. As many as half of the adults incarcerated in the region are serving time for meth-related charges. However, cocaine and marijuana use are common, as well. Local law enforcement officials note that drug use, trafficking and production have a significant impact on the amount of crime in the city.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans residents have been through a lot over the past decades, and now they must deal with high rates of cocaine addiction and related crime, as well. After Hurricane Katrina, a wave of new drug dealers swept into the ravaged city. The new traffickers were competing with those dealers that were already established in the area, and violent turf wars have been the unfortunate result.
Today, New Orleans’ murder rate is among the highest in the United States — 95 murders per every 100,000 people in 2007 — and many point to the illicit drug trade as the reason. Crack is the drug of choice in the Big Easy.
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco metropolitan area is home to a higher percentage of drug users than most other areas of the United States. A study found that more than 13 percent of San Franciscans reported using an illicit drug within the past month, much higher than the national average of 8.1 percent. Some attribute these numbers to the fact that California decriminalized medical marijuana use for those with health problems, leading to a jump in the amount of people using marijuana. Others note that the regions north of the city have long been known as a productive marijuana production area, making the drug more accessible.
The city of San Francisco focuses its drug prevention efforts largely on cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin use. San Francisco’s emergency room visit rates related to illicit drug use are the highest in the country. In 2006, 809 of every 100,000 emergency room visits was due to drug use. Heroin use accounts for much of the city’s illicit use, while crack cocaine and heroin are popular in nearby Oakland.
A survey taken in the Emerald City found that 9.6 percent of Seattle residents had used drugs within the last month. As in San Francisco, the state’s medical marijuana policy contributes to the rates of drug use, as does the city’s lax marijuana enforcement policies. 2012 legislation legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is expected to result in an increase in usage, as well.
Heroin use is increasing in Seattle, as well. Since 2010, heroin use amongst young people has risen by 74 percent. The illicit use of opiate-type prescription drugs has spiked in recent years, as well, along with the number of heroin-related deaths.
In the nation’s capital, cocaine use was a factor in at least one-third of adult arrests in 2008; in 2006 alone, 75 people overdosed on cocaine. Washington D.C. remains ground zero in the country for cocaine use. Studies indicate that about 5.1 percent of residents have used cocaine over the past year, the highest rate in the United States.
Cocaine in rock form, or crack, is the drug of choice for many users in Washington D.C. The city’s Ward 2, which contains the downtown business district, reportedly has the highest cocaine use statistics of any place in the country, with 5.22 percent of residents reporting cocaine use.
A Growing Challenge
Though certain cities face even steeper challenges associated with illicit drug use, the problem continues to spread across the United States as a whole. While drug use in some major metropolitan areas, such as Baltimore, has been an on-going issue for decades, other, many smaller communities face great challenges as well. In all cases, higher illicit drug use is connected to increased crime rates, as well as public health issues. The answer to these issues is a quality drug rehabilitation program. Once the user gets treatment, they can return to a normal like.