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Heroin: The Drug That Does Not Discriminate

The image of a heroin user is typically a poor, unemployed, uneducated person who lives in an inner city. It is true that some poor, uneducated people do abuse heroin. However, there is no such thing as a "typical" heroin user. In 2004 for example, Colin Farrell, one of the year's top Hollywood actors, admitted to the press that he had tried the drug. The list of actors, artists, musicians, students, business executives, and politicians, among others, who have had a heroin habit is long. As such, heroin is abused by people from all segments of the population—young and old; rich and poor; uneducated and educated; employed and unemployed; and people living in the city, suburbs, and rural areas.

From 1995 until 1999, Dr. Lance L. Gooberman ran an "ultra rapid detox" facility for heroin abusers in a New Jersey-area suburb. According to Carol Ann Campbell in the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger, an investigation of Dr. Gooberman's practice "has shone a light into the hidden world of suburban heroin use." The reporter added: "Gooberman's clients included business executives, college students and parents who opened their checkbooks to get themselves or their children off drugs." In another Star-Ledger piece, Gooberman himself said he received 2,000 calls each week for his services. "We get all kinds—jail to Yale," he said. "We've had rock stars, an oil company heir, a Kuwaiti prince."

Heroin is not just a drug for the poor. It has found its way into the wealthiest neighborhoods in America. It is safe to say that heroin does not play a major role in the "club drug" scene. Under the influence of heroin, users become quiet and withdrawn. They tend to sit or lie in one place, nodding. Their speech becomes slurred. This sort of behavior does not fit the "RAVE" or dance party environment.

Can scientists identify a particular personality trait that may lead someone to experiment with heroin or abuse it? According to Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), neurobiology, the workings of the brain, do play a part in determining who may develop a heroin habit. Volkow told Psychology Today that addiction "may be a malfunction of the normal human craving for stimulation. … If you connect to the world in a meaningful way, and have more chances to get excited about natural stimuli, you're less likely to need an artificial boost." However, people who tend to look at the world in a dark way may be at a greater risk for drug addiction. This includes people who are easily bored or who feel bad about themselves, people who are stressed by work or school, or people who feel unpopular and disliked.

Heroin abuse and addiction is not just an American problem, either. Sohail Abdul Nasir in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that 4.5 million Pakistanis are addicted to the drug. Arrests for possession or sale of heroin have occurred on every continent except Antarctica, and some countries have extremely harsh penalties for those caught with the drug. The problem is so serious in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands that those nations have established a few, carefully controlled "free heroin" clinics for addicts in hopes of reducing crime and the spread of illness.

The populations that show the least use of heroin are those where the poppies are actually grown. To many opium poppy farmers, growing the plants is just business—a way to provide for their families.

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