Although the dangers of heroin addiction are exceptionally high, the drug has acquired a certain status in popular culture. The writer Irvine Welsh, for example, chronicled the exploits of group of heroin addicts in Scotland in his best-selling novel Trainspotting, which was made into a successful movie. A generation of young music lovers were introduced to the notion of heroin use through popular music icons during the 1960s and 1970s. The Rolling Stones, Jim Morison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and The Ramones have all either written songs in which heroin use featured prominently, or had been associated with heroin addiction.

Despite its depiction in popular culture, including in major movies such as the Basketball Diaries, Panic in Needle Park and Requiem for a Dream the dangers of heroin addiction are never deliberately glamorised. Heroin addiction is too harmful and tragic for it to be portrayed as positive pursuit. However, the use of the drug by some famous celebrities is sometimes considered as a danger in itself, inciting curiosity and a wish to experience it amongst some of their more vulnerable and impressionable young fans.

An American survey from 2003 conservatively estimated that 3.7 million people in the US had used heroin at some stage in their lives. Many are suffering from heroin addiction. The biggest group reporting heroin use in the preceding year was aged 26 or older. Over half of the respondents who reported use of the drug during the previous year – 5 7.4 per cent – were classified as heroin-dependent.