Major media outlets each did their own version of the “new face of heroin.” That new face was young, white, and “all-American.” In the 2000s, many cases of addiction to heroin began with pharmaceutical opioids that had flooded the market since the late 1990s, thanks in large part to toothless regulators captured by corporate interests. A glut of high-dose opioids like oxycodone flowing through the medical market found a young, white consumer base in the illicit market willing to pay top dollar. But things took a dark turn around 2010, when pharmaceutical opioids became scarce, expensive, and tamper-proof, which sparked a mass exodus from pills to cheap, potent, and widely available heroin. Some experts thought a “rush” to the heroin market wouldn’t be all that bad, but since the crackdown on pharmaceutical opioids, overdose deaths continue to break annual records. Thousands died because they were now using drugs in an unregulated, criminalized environment.
But because pharmaceutical opioids were pinned as the gateway to heroin addiction—even though many heroin users were never prescribed opioids themselves--the media did not demonize these new users as “junkies.” This “new face” narrative also posited that drugs like heroin were leaving “urban” centers and invading America’s idealized heartland, places like the Ohio River Valley and Appalachia, where drug use and addiction do not belong (aside from alcohol, of course).
TO CONTINUE READING: