Heroin Use in US Reaches Epidemic Numbers

Heroin Use in US Reaches Epidemic Numbers

As many as 8,200 people died from heroin overdoses in 2013 alone, according to a new CDC report. (Photo: Getty Images)

Heroin overdose deaths in the United States nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, fueled by lower costs as well as increased abuse of prescription opiate painkillers,U.S. health officials said on Tuesday.

The report found that heroin use increased by 63 percent from 2002 to 2013. In 2013, roughly 517,000 people reported that they had used heroin in the last year, a 150 percent increase from 2007.  As many as 8,200 people died from heroin overdoses in 2013 alone.

Such medicines, which include Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, increase individuals’ susceptibility to heroin addiction, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters.

“Everything we see points to more accessible, less-expensive heroin all over the country,” Frieden said of the joint report by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which analyzed national survey data on drug use from 2002 to 2013.

The report found that nearly all people (96 percent) who use heroin also use multiple other substances, and that the strongest risk factor for heroin abuse is prescription opiate abuse.  In recent years people in nearly every demographic group are using the drug more: For example, heroin use has doubled among women.

According to the report, individuals who abuse prescription opiates have a 40 times greater risk of abusing heroin. The increased use has fueled sharp increases in overdose deaths.

Frieden said reversing the trend will require an “all-society response” to improve opioid prescribing practices and expand access to effective treatment, increasing the use of drugs such as naloxone to reverse drug overdoses and working with law enforcement partners such as the Drug Enforcement Administration to disrupt the supply of heroin.

“There are lots of people who have not yet gotten an opiate and we need to protect them from the risk of getting addicted,” Frieden said.

He said doctors are prescribing “way too much of these medications, and the result of it is large numbers of people who are addicted.”

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