Heroin use is on the rise in Washington state, particularly among young people, according to a new report. The increase can be traced to laws that have made it more difficult to obtain prescriptions for opioids such as oxycodone, the researchers say.
Those laws decreased the number of people who abused opioids, but increased the demand for heroin in Washington, Caleb Banta-Green of the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute told U.S. News & World Report.
“We were either progressive or regressive with that aggressive effort to reign in opiate prescribing before a lot of the country,” he said. “It shows if you enact these laws, you get some of the intended effects – high school sophomores have significantly decreased the rate at which they’re abusing prescription opiates, but people are also diverted to heroin.”
He found the number of drug tests from criminal suspects evaluated by the state crime lab that tested positive for heroin increased 167 percent from 2007 to 2012, from 842 cases to 2,251.
Health officials nationwide are seeing an increase in heroin use as prescription painkillers become more difficult to obtain and abuse. According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people who were past-year heroin users in 2011 (620,000) was higher than the number in 2007 (373,000).
Banta-Green says heroin has moved from large cities such as Seattle into smaller suburbs and towns, following the patterns seen with crystal meth in the 1990s. His study found King County, which includes Seattle, showed an increase in deaths involving heroin among those under 30 in 2012. He noted the rate of all opiate deaths, including heroin and prescription opioids, has nearly doubled in the past decade.