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Drug Use and Addiction in the Suburbs

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Many people, even born-and-raised city-dwellers, gravitate to the suburbs as they become adults. With increased financial stability comes the desire for more space, for a bit more peace and quiet, and for a safe and secure place in which to raise children. The crowds, smells, relatively high crime rates of most cities, and other realities of urban life convince many that the suburbs will provide an idyllic, white-picket-fence retreat from all of those problems.

Crime and addiction are two of the biggest perceived downsides of urban living that send many people fleeing to the suburban oasis. But is the reality of life in the suburbs really the ideal that many people have? As suburbs grow and diversify, more of the problems traditionally associated with cities are now making their way to other communities. Addiction and drug use has also changed somewhat over the years, and the demographics of addiction have changed as a result.

Prescription Drug Abuse in the Suburbs

Abuse of prescription drugs has been on the rise for the last few decades, and it has significantly affected a segment of the population traditionally considered to be at a lower risk for addiction problems. Highly educated and more affluent households are more likely to have access to prescription medications, including drugs that are frequently abused such as opioids and stimulants.

Painkillers such as oxycodone or morphine, stimulants such as Ritalin, and central nervous system depressants such as barbiturates are the most frequently abused prescription mediations. Stimulants in particular, thanks to the increased energy and focus they impart, are becoming very popular with high-performing and affluent members of the population. Students, academics, and athletes are now among the individuals most likely to seek a performance advantage from drugs that are properly prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

A Growing Suburban Heroin Problem

Prescription medications are not the only drugs that present a growing problem among suburban populations. A number of stories and surveys in recent years now show that illicit drugs such as heroin have also made significant inroads in the suburbs among young adults.

Young adult initiation to heroin has increased across the board in the last 10 years. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 introduced to heroin has grown by 80 percent since 2002. The number of heroin-related deaths has also more than doubled among young adults. The vast majority – close to 90 percent – of teen heroin addicts are white, and many reside in the safe haven of the suburbs.

Research is now showing that prescription opioids are a key gateway drug for teenagers who begin to use heroin. The Center for Disease Control has reported that one in eight high school seniors will use painkillers without a prescription. However, the expense of acquiring opioids as well as an effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse has led many teens to try heroin, which provides a faster, more intense high and is also cheaper to purchase.

Are Suburban Teens at Greater Risk for Drug Abuse?

While drug abuse and addiction is far from a non-existent problem in the suburbs, it does not mean that the suburbs are just as dangerous as the cities. For the time being, drug use and abuse remains a larger and more visible problem in the cities than on the fringes.

However, there are signs that adults in the suburbs should be increasingly vigilant when it comes to eliminating and preventing drug use among teenagers. The founder of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, among others, has suggested that suburban or other upper middle class teens are an greater risk for initiation because they receive relatively little education about or exposure to the dangers of drug use as they are growing up.

Upper middle class teens are also more likely to be exposed to and develop an addiction to relatively expensive prescription opioids. These teens may not view their activities as true drug abuse, or may not see their image in the usual stereotype of a drug addict. Once they develop a physical dependence on opioids, the transition to heroin as a cheaper way to feed their addiction is much easier.

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