Long a scourge of the back alleys of American life, heroin is spreading across the country. The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February only underscored a problem many American communities already were combating: the rising use of -- and deaths from -- heroin. Here are five things to know about this issue:
1. Rising use in recent years
The number of past-year heroin users in the U.S. has risen from 373,000 in 2007 to 669,000 in 2012, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.
2. Overdose deaths worry DOJ
Overdose deaths involving heroin rose 45 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently described the problem as "an urgent and growing public health crisis," as he called for more first responders to carry an antidote that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. But federal statistics also show that in 2010, heroin accounted for less than 10 percent of all drug overdose deaths.
3. Starting "older"
The average age for those using heroin for the first time was 23, according to a 2012 national survey sponsored by SAMHSA. In contrast, it was about 18 for marijuana, 19 for LSD and 20 for cocaine.
4. Harder to find
Heroin is considered far more difficult to obtain than other drugs for younger people. In 2012, nearly half of those 12 to 17 in the national SAMHSA survey said it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" for them to get marijuana. Only about 1 in 10 said heroin would be that readily available. The 2012 survey also found that from 2002 to 2012, all drugs -- marijuana, cocaine, crack, LSD and heroin -- became less available. In that 10-year period, the availability of heroin fell from nearly 16 percent to 10 percent.
5. Hotlines and help
The Partnership at Drugfree.org has a toll-free helpline -- 1-855-378-4373 (DRUGFREE) -- that offers assistance to families concerned about a teen's drug use or drinking. Trained specialists can help parents outline plans for prevention, intervention and other services. They also can direct parents to local and national resources. The English-Spanish helpline is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. SAMHSA has a 24-hour hotline -- 1-800-662-HELP (4357) -- and a directory of more than 11,000 alcohol and drug addiction treatment facilities and programs at http://www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.