Despite a troubling increase, the number of heroin users in the United States is still relatively small—900,000 out of a total U.S population of 318.9 million in 2014, or about 3 out of every 1,000 people. An even smaller number who use heroin also have a mental illness.

How risks add up

However, people who use heroin are more likely to develop significant medical conditions, such as problems breathing, infections of the heart and blood vessels and sexual dysfunction. They also have a higher risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis and HIV from sharing needles.

People with both a mental illness and substance use disorder have a greater risk of suicide, are more likely to experience side effects from medications and may face an early death. They also have the added challenge of negotiating the health care system that can be ill-equipped to handle two very complex conditions at the same time.

The right way to treat

Fortunately, thanks to the work of people across the health care professions, and the expansion of health care through the Affordable Care Act, there are many effective, evidence-based treatments, services and recovery support programs for individuals who have co-occurring conditions, such as heroin use and mental illness.

The Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are working every day to make affordable, quality health care available to all Americans. However, we must never stop in our efforts to ensure that evidence-based treatments and health care services are available to those most in need.