Frightening new data shows that the heroin epidemic has ravaged the United States in the last decade. And it gets even more alarming because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that heroin-related deaths have nearly quadrupled in the same time.
The CDC’s report that was released on Tuesday found that fatalities from heroin-related overdoses have increased by 286 percent. Deaths from heroin overdoses have nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, claiming an eye-opening 8,257 lives in 2013. With purer heroin coming into the country and multi-drug abuse, the deaths from heroin overdose have doubled from 2011 to 2013.
The disturbing findings reveal that more than half a million people used heroin in 2013, up nearly 150 percent since 2007. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration backed up these statistics and estimated that there were 669,000 American heroin users in 2012.
The demographics of the abuse of heroin is also changing. While heroin use remained highest for poor young men living in cities, it has quickly spread across all demographic groups. Huge increases were seen in women and people with private insurance and high incomes, coincidentally the same groups that have had a parallel rise in prescription drug use over the past decade. In 2013, approximately 100 percent more women were using heroin than in 2002-2004. Heroin use has increased 60 percent for people earning $50,000 or more.
Heroin users are extremely likely to seek out other drugs. An astounding 96 percent of heroin users also used another drug, such as cocaine, marijuana or alcohol. The report states that 61 percent of heroin users used at least three different drugs.
The CDC discovered that people who took opioid painkillers were 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin. Individuals addicted to alcohol were twice as likely, people who used cocaine were 15 times as likely and those who used marijuana were three times likely to use heroin.
The CDC believes that the heroin boom has much to do with dependance on painkillers. “An increasing number of people are primed for heroin use because they were addicted to an opioid painkiller,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. Heroin has essentially the same chemicals as opioid painkillers and provides much the same effect on the brain, plus it can be five times less expensive than opioid painkillers on the street and are more readily available.
The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2002-2013. This report questioned thousands of Americans, but does not include those in the military, homeless and prison populations, plus there are those who were too embarrassed or scared to report their usage. So the grim statistics may be even much more dire.
The CDC believes that the life-saving drug Naloxone should be more readily available because it reduces prescription opioid painkiller and heroin overdose deaths. It works within minutes to reverse the effects of an overdose by sticking to brain cells and stopping the drug from getting in.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise increased access to substance abuse treatment services, including Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction through the Affordable Care Act.
They also say that if addicts are going to continue to abuse heroin that they should use safer behaviors to safeguard themselves. They recommend that they not use heroin while alone and looking at the color and texture of heroin before using.
If you or someone you know needs help for any substance abuse problems, please call 1-800-662-HELP.