ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06:   Drugs are prepared to shoot intravenously by a user addicted to heroin on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. New York City police are currently investigating the death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who was found dead last Sunday with a needle in his arm.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
New Hampshire's drug abuse epidemic
05:18 - Source: CNN

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One in 20 adults -- a quarter of a billion people between 15 and 64 -- used at least one drug in 2014

Heroin use in the United States is up 145% since 2007, the report found

CNN  — 

Worldwide, drug use has remained steady over the past four years, according to a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. However, researchers found that heroin use in the United States is up 145% since 2007.

One in 20 adults – roughly a quarter of a billion people between ages 15 and 64 – used at least one illegal or improperly used drug in 2014, according to the World Drug Report 2016. Though the numbers have not grown in proportion to the global population, new trends have developed, including increased sales in anonymous online marketplaces.

“The darknet is becoming a very popular way for people to get drugs,” said Joseph J. Palamar, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center who was not involved in the new research.

“This raises concerns in terms of the potential of the ‘dark net’ to attract new populations of users by facilitating access to drugs in both developed and developing countries,” the authors wrote.

The darknet is not the only marketplace for illicit drugs. Palamar said new psychoactive compounds that are chemically similar to illicit drugs are legally sold and purchased on the “regular” Internet. He described some sites as being “pretty much like eBay,” complete with user ratings that drive business to those selling higher-quality, more pure drugs.

The U.N. researchers also reported gender differences in drug use. Men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines, while women are more likely to take opioids and tranquilizers for non-medical purposes.

Globally, the number of people using heroin, opium and morphine has changed little in recent years, the report indicated. In 2014, a total of 17.4 million people used these drugs, amounting to 0.4% of the global population age 15-64. What has changed, though, is the regions where people are using.

“Heroin use increased in North America in the past decade, which resulted in an increase in the level of heroin-related deaths,” the report found. For 2014, the U.N. researchers estimated that 914,000 people 12 or older had used heroin in the past year, a 145% increase since 2007. Yet, past-month users of heroin in 2014 amount to 435,000 Americans, according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (PDF).

“Because heroin use is not as common as the use of other illicit drugs, monitoring both past month and past year heroin use provides additional context for interpreting the trends,” the substance abuse report authors say.

Further highlighting just how bad the situation is in the United States, the report found that deaths related to heroin have increased fivefold since 2000. Worldwide, the overall number of drug-related deaths remained stable, with an estimated 207,400 in 2014. Overdose deaths, most caused by opioids, composed up to half of all drug-related deaths.

In other health impacts, 14% of the 12 million people who inject drugs are living with HIV, and 29 million people are dependent on drugs.