The United States is suffering from a “huge epidemic” of heroin addiction, as cheap supply has pushed the number of users to a 20-year high and increasing drug-related deaths, according to the United Nations.
The number of heroin users in the US reached around one million in 2014, almost three times as many as in 2003, according to the UN's annual World Drug Report released on Thursday.
"There is really a huge epidemic (of) heroin in the US," said Angela Me, the chief researcher for the report. "It is the highest definitely in the last 20 years," she said, adding that the trend was continuing.
The growing heroin epidemic could be related to American laws introduced in recent years which make it harder to abuse prescription opioids such as oxicodone, a powerful painkiller that can have similar effects to heroin, Me said. "This has caused a partial shift from the misuse of these prescription opioids to heroin."
Another reason for the increase in the abuse of heroin is a greater supply from Latin American countries like Mexico and Colombia, which has reduced prices in recent years, Me said.
The United States has also seen a sharp increase in deaths related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2014, about 210,000 deaths around the world were drug-related, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The agency said drug overdose deaths have spiked during the last two years.