Heroin Deaths Rise Sharply in Many States: Study

Drug bag

The death rate from heroin overdoses doubled from 2010 to 2012, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Years of over-prescribing of painkillers led to the increase in heroin deaths, the CDC said.

Deaths from heroin rose from 1 to 2.1 deaths per 100,000 people during that period. Deaths from prescription opioid painkillers declined, from 6 to 5.6 deaths per 100,000, Reuters reports. “The rapid rise in heroin overdose deaths follows nearly two decades of increasing drug overdose deaths in the United States, primarily driven by (prescription painkiller) drug overdoses,” the CDC researchers wrote.

They found 75 percent of heroin users in treatment programs who started using heroin after 2000 said they first abused prescription opioids. They switched to heroin because it was easier to get, less expensive and more potent than painkillers. In contrast, more than 80 percent of people who began using heroin in the 1960s said they didn’t start abusing another drug first.

The largest increase in heroin overdose deaths occurred in the Northeast, followed by the South.

“Reducing inappropriate opioid prescribing remains a crucial public health strategy to address both prescription opioid and heroin overdoses,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news release. “Addressing prescription opioid abuse by changing prescribing is likely to prevent heroin use in the long term.”

The CDC is calling for improving access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and increased use of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.

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    Susan Weinstock, M.D.

    October 10, 2014 at 11:15 PM

    Those in the addiction treatment field have seen the shift from Rx pain meds to heroin first hand. Personal thanks to the CDC for scientific documentation of this.

    Just as the reformulation of Oxycontin led to the unintended consequence of increased heroin use, the recent rescheduling of hydrocodone products from schedule III to schedule II is worrisome. In the long run, opioid abuse / dependence / overdose should decrease.
    In the immediate future, however, exacerbation of the heroin epidemic seems likely.

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    Billy Heckle RPh, CACII

    October 7, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    Interesting article that seems to be long on drama and short on useful information. Where do we start…
    1- “years of over-prescribing painkillers…”. This is an assumption with nothing to really back it up. It sounds reasonable until you actually look at the numbers more closely. In reality a small percentage (<1% according to HHS) of doctors ran illegal pain clinics. For the most part, opioids have been under-prescribed to those who truly need them, causing unnecessary suffering and debilitation. I suppose they used the following statement as their base of facts:

    2- "They found 75% of heroin users in treatment programs…said they first abused prescription opioids. They switched to heroin…". and "…more than 80% of the people who began using heroin in the '60's…'.I would like to review the actual questions asked the patients because this sounds like someone left out part of the story!! I agree that it is likely that Rx opioids have been used by these group of patients, but these are not the only drugs that were used before heroin. According to NIDA, more than 90% of those who abused any type of opioids abused another type of drug first. This statement will apply to those "1960's" users also.

    Please correct or explain these "errors" at your convenience.

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