Study: 1.5 percent of UConn students have reported using heroin at least once

In this Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015 photograph, a jug of used needles to exchange for new is seen near an industrial area of Camden, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP)

Approximately 1.5 percent of UConn students have reported using heroin at least once, according to a spring 2014 study.

In the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment it was found that 98.5 percent of UConn students who responded had never used heroin, 0.9 percent of individuals had used heroin, but not in the last 30 days, 0.5 percent of persons had used heroin in the last 30 days and 0 percent of respondents had used heroin daily.

Colby Zongol, UConn’s alcohol and other drug education coordinator, provided the UConn-specific data from the study.

Nationally, 1.9 percent of students reported using heroin or smack at least once, according to the assessment.

Connecticut’s medical examiner reported 325 heroin-related deaths in 2014. This is an increase of more than 86 percent from 2012, in which 174 people died. 

There are currently 2.2 million opioid users in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Connecticut is ranked at No. 29 for most overdoses, tied with Wisconsin at a rate of 13.1 per 100,000 persons.

“The heroin pandemic, and the increase in heroin use and opiates, including prescription pain pills, has been increasing for many years now,” Saint Francis Hospital’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Director Surita Rao said. “And it is almost, for us as addiction specialists, as if the media is paying more attention to it now. The second part (of the reason for the increase) is the United States uses 80 percent of the world’s opiates. The other 20 percent is shared by the rest of the world, included the ‘developed’ nations such as European countries, Canada and the middle classes of China and India.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in national trends found in the age group of 18-to-44-year-olds. The report said that 84 percent of heroin deaths that have occurred in the last three years have been non-Hispanic whites.

For those who are between 18 and 24, there has been an increase of heroin-related deaths from 0.8 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2000 to 3.9 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2013, according to the CDC. As stated in the completed research, there are issues in reporting, as many coroners will record fatal overdose on their medical report, but not list which drug was the cause of that overdose.

Rao said that it is not just heroin that is the opiate being used, but prescription painkillers as well.

“Many parents have old medications (prescription painkillers) from a surgery left in their medicine cabinets,” Rao said. “No parent thinks that, or at least, wants to think that, it will be their child who takes their old painkillers.”

There is much speculation by various news sources and scientists studying these trends that this increase in heroin use is due to an increase in preventative measures taken by President Bill Clinton at the end of his term and continued by President George W. Bush through his administration to inhibit the access to prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin. Rao said a lack of access to painkillers, either financially, physically or both, often turns many to heroin, which is cheaper and more accessible.

Between 2010 and 2013, heroin overdoses increased by 37 percent each year, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics in March.

Connecticut legislators have taken measures to provide funding for overdose reversal kits that include Naltrexone and Narcan, addiction recovery aids utilized to block the addictive receptors in the brain. These differ from the historically used methadone treatments, as they are often used during the “post-methadone period” and have more of a transitional purpose for everyday life, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine from the National Institutes of Health.

“In August the Office of National Drug Control Policy allocated $2.5 million to hire and train additional personnel to focus on treatment rather than punishment of heroin addicts,” UConn Police Deputy Chief Hans Rhynhart said. “The Northeastern part of the United States is targeted to receive some of these funds.”

There currently is an increase in the purity of heroin that is being imported into the U.S., increasing its potency to consumers. Another trend in heroin is the combination of opioids, such as pure heroin and fentanyl, known by its street name of China White.

“In recent years the purity of heroin has increased due to market competitiveness and availability,” Rhynhart said. “It is not uncommon for new heroin users to become addicted upon other legally prescribed but often illegally used opioids, mainly painkillers.  When the supply of the painkillers decreases, users turn to heroin. This is a common and often seen course.”

Senior staff writer Kyle Constable contributed reporting.


Elizabeth Charash is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.charash@uconn.edu.