The war on drugs got a nice fillip from the Associated Press in its story on heroin addiction in Afghanistan. According to the AP:
“There are at least 200,000 opium and heroin addicts in Afghanistan – 50,000 more than in the much bigger, wealthier U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a 2005 survey by the U.N. A new survey is expected to show even higher rates of addiction, a window into the human toll of Afghanistan’s back-to-back wars and desperate poverty.”
This seems to suggest that there are only 150,000 heroin addicts in the U.S., a surprisingly small number for a country of 300 million. In part, this all depends on how you define addiction or dependence or heroin use. For example, the latest data from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health counts 213,000 Americans over the age of 12 abusing or being dependent on heroin in the past year.
But the National Institute on Drug Abuse cautions that this may be an underestimation of the scope of heroin abuse, something that the National Survey highlights when it reports that 335,000 people sought treatment for heroin addiction in 2007. And here’s the thing, the number of people seeking treatment for addiction tends to be much lower than the actual number of those who are addicted. In sum, we may not know exactly how many heroin addicts there are in the U.S., but we can be certain it is significantly more than that reported by the AP.