Profile of a Heroin Scare

Vermont’s governor famously devoted his entire State of the State Address to Vermont’s heroin crisis. And, so, it was natural for a new heroin scare to be featured on NBC’s recent program, “Hooked: America’s Heroin Epidemic.”

Here are two principle features of such “Hooked” stories:

    1. Many middle class people are heroin addicts, and die as a result. A plausible middle class person has to be featured as a heroin addict in order to reinforce the idea that addiction befalls everyone equally. On NBC, the heroin user was the son of two doctors who themselves treat drug abusers!When a news program scans the streets in any locale most known for heroin dealing, they show run-down areas of Vermont, or of Appalachia, or inner city ghettos. These news features always ask us to suspend our disbelief that the middle class is equally susceptible to heroin addiction, and especially shine a light on the well-known entertainment figures, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who die from heroin use.

      But, the belief they ask us to suspend is true. Middle class people are less likely to be addicted to heroin and cocaine, to cigarettes, and to alcohol – even though a much higher proportion of college-educated people than those with high school diplomas drink. And no one really believes that better-off and the disadvantaged are equally susceptible to drug addiction. Do you believe that just as many college graduates and high school drop-outs become addicted to heroin? If you do, then you would also say you don’t think it’s important for inner city kids to achieve higher education in order to become productive, non-substance-abusing people.

    2. No matter what your personal resources are, you are equally unlikely to be able to get off of heroin. Of course, first we have to deal with the young man whose parents are physicians featured on the NBC segment. Still very young, he has been off of heroin for a year (full recovery – stable remission – defined as a year clean in the psychiatric diagnostic manual, DSM).  And why do you think he succeeded in kicking heroin? Would it be the concern of his parents, his stable home, the potential he has to go on to be a successful professional – perhaps a doctor – himself? If you imagined these were critical factors in remission, you’d be 100% right. Personal resources, support systems, and future opportunities, taken together, are the single greatest predictor of remission from drug addiction.

Article by Stanton Peele for

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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