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Research Reports: Heroin: Abuse and Addiction

Letter From the Director

Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and its abuse has repercussions that extend far beyond the individual user. The medical and social consequences of drug abuse - HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, fetal effects, crime, violence, and disruptions in family, workplace, and educational environments - have a devastating impact on society and cost billions of dollars each year.

Although heroin abuse has trended downward during the past several years, its prevalence is still higher than in the early 1990s. These relatively high rates of abuse, especially among school-age youth, and the glamorization of heroin in music and films make it imperative that the public has the latest scientific information on this topic. Heroin also is increasing in purity and decreasing in price, which makes it an attractive option for young people.

Like many other chronic diseases, addiction can be treated. Fortunately, the availability of treatments to manage opiate addiction and the promise from research of new and effective behavioral and pharmacological therapies provides hope for individuals who suffer from addiction and for those around them. For example, buprenorphine, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002, provides a less addictive alternative to methadone maintenance, reduces cravings with only mild withdrawal symptoms, and can be prescribed in the privacy of a doctor's office.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has developed this publication to provide an overview of the state of heroin abuse and addiction. We hope this compilation of scientific information on heroin will help to inform readers about the harmful effects of heroin abuse and addiction as well as assist in prevention and treatment efforts.

Nora D.Volkow, M.D.
National Institute on Drug Abuse

This page was last updated May 2005.

​Research Reports

This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.

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