In 2013 an estimated 517,000 people reported that they had used heroin in the past year or had a heroin-related dependence, a 150% increase from 2007. And what’s worse is that nearly all people who use heroin also use at least one other drug. “Most heroin users have a history of nonmedical use of prescription opioid pain relievers, and an increase in the rate of heroin overdose deaths has occurred concurrently with an epidemic of prescription opioid overdoses”, the study authors write.
It’s because of the expense and difficulty obtaining prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons that so many painkiller addicts are switching to heroin. A 19-year-old girl and 34-year-old man died, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
People who abused opioid painkillers were 40 times more likely to abuse heroin, the new report found.
“Heroin use is increasing rapidly across almost all demographic groups, and with that increase, we are seeing a dramatic rise in deaths”, he said.
For this Vital Signs report, FDA and CDC analyzed data from the 2002-2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Vital Statistics System.
“It’s really a one-two punch”, Frieden said during a media briefing.
The CDC report found that 45 percent of heroin-users were also addicted to prescription narcotics from 2011 to 2013, doubling the rate from 2002 to 2004.
Heroin use has increased across multiple demographic groups. The amount of heroin confiscated at the Mexican border by the Drug Enforcement Administration also quadrupled from less than 500 kg from 2000 to 2008 to about 2,200 kg in 2013. The user experiences the same euphoric effect from heroin as they do from prescription painkillers.
The evidence-based initiative focuses on three promising areas: informing opioid prescribing practices, increasing the use of naloxone – a drug that reverses symptoms of a drug overdose, and using medication-assisted treatment to slowly move people out of opioid addiction.
“Approximately 120 people die each day in the United States of a drug overdose”, added Drug Enforcement Administration acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg.
Experts say that reductions in prescription painkillers likely is a contributing factor to the spike in heroin use. These are cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health care-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, food safety and viral hepatitis.
Lander, who has been treating addiction for three decades, sees the heroin boom as the latest in a series of waves of drug abuse that regularly sweep across the United States.
But that’s not the only reason heroin use is up.
This means about 2.6 people out of every 1,000 Americans who are 12 or older tried heroin in 2013.
Heroin today can be particularly risky because some drug dealers cut it with fentanyl, an opiate commonly used for post-surgical pain that can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the DEA.
“We can turn this around, but it will take a lot of work and all of society working together”, Frieden said.
“As a doctor who started my career taking care of patients with HIV and other complications from injection drugs, it’s heartbreaking to see injection drug use making a comeback in the US”, says Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC.
Look at the data and practices of state Medicaid and worker’s compensation programs to identify and reduce inappropriate prescribing.