Heroin Abuse Increases, and Prescription Opioids Are Largely to Blame: CDC

Heroin abuse is rising across the United States, according to a new government report that finds the strongest risk factor for a heroin use disorder is a prescription opioid use disorder. People addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to abuse or be dependent on heroin, NPR reports.

The largest increase in heroin use is among women and white (non-Hispanic) Americans. Young adults and those with household incomes below $20,000 are most likely to use heroin. Most people who use heroin abuse multiple other substances, including opioid pain relievers and cocaine, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

More than half a million Americans used heroin in 2013, nearly a 150 percent increase since 2007. Heroin-involved overdose deaths almost doubled from 2011 to 2013. More than 8,200 people died from heroin overdoses that year.

“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 U.S.,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. He noted opioid painkillers and heroin essentially have the same active ingredient, but heroin is increasingly easy to obtain and much less expensive than prescription opioids.

Frieden called for an “urgent all-society response” to the heroin epidemic, which would include tracking the use of prescription painkillers and ensuring doctors only prescribe them as necessary. Other strategies include providing treatment to people who are addicted to painkillers and heroin; cracking down on smuggling and street sales of heroin, to increase the price and discourage abuse; and increasing the use of the overdose antidote naloxone.

“It is not enough to simply reverse overdoses,” Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy noted in a news release. “We must also connect overdose victims and people struggling with prescription drug and heroin use disorders to treatment facilities and doctors that offer medication-assisted treatment.”

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    Jerri Brown

    March 17, 2017 at 8:32 AM

    Iam a mom living in what used to be a beautiful safe fun area to be now I find myself watching all these drug transactions these homes people walking up driving up needles everywhere I spend most of my time out with the kids at the bus stop walking the streets making sure they are safe I need help I need a group or something to give me some ideas to help fight this the police have told me it’s the world I live in and get used to it I don’t accept that I don’t want my children to grow up and have to face this I want it to be ended now I need tools I need groups I need help to put together the people that I know down here that will help fight we just need to know how the police can’t help I’m angry and I’m disturbed and asking for any kind of help on putting together some kind of groups or something for these people to get together and fight against this down here in Woodridge Prairie Ridge Bonney Lake area we are a small community have some houses that are blatantly doing this in front of our children running out of places to turn but willing to fight

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    Susan Weinstock, M.D.

    July 12, 2015 at 11:25 PM

    AT a recent meeting of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, it was clear that almost all US residential treatment programs are opposed to use of anti-addiction medication.The leaders of these programs do not appear interested in science-based studies demonstrating the efficacy of medication assisted treatment. The failure rate for abstinence-based, 12 step programs is estimated to be as high as 98%.

    In any other medical specialty, failure to offer best available science-based treatment is considered
    medical malpractice.

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    John Roberts

    July 9, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    It seems both replies to this article are quite defensive of the legitimate use of Rx opioids. In fact, far too defensive. There are MANY roads to addiction. Let’s face the issue completely and address the epidemic and the many ways people contract this highly lethal disease. We do not have time to deviate from the ultimate objective of addressing a disease whose growth has become nothing less than epidemic in its proportions. AND – let’s stand together in this fight. We need EVERYONE to be less defensive,more focused on the problem at hand, and willing to admit it is all about saving people from contracting a truly horrible disease.

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    July 8, 2015 at 7:27 PM

    The research shows clearly that while people start with prescriptions, it is usually scripts from others. In other words, they ‘borrowed’ the drugs, and this is what started their descent into ‘addiction’. To put it differently, the problem isn’t prescriptions, but that these drugs are later stolen from the legitimate owner. If you want to believe the claims of thieves then be my guest, but I don’t think you should base public policy on it.

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    Billy, RPh, CACII

    July 8, 2015 at 4:40 PM

    Title ends up being misleading. According to NIDA approximately 95% of those with an opioid SUD had a prior diagnosis of some other Substance Use Disorder. So you are looking in the wrong place if you start trying to reduce heroin use by focusing on Rx opioids. If you don’t take a look at ALL substances you have missed the mark completely. Continuing to abuse and demonize the legitimate users of opioids and Rx opioids themselves is not useful or productive.

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