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Heroin Deaths Double in the Past Two Years

From: Bloomberg News

The number of Americans dying from heroin overdoses doubled across 28 states in 2012 from 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fueled by easy access and rising rates of opioid addiction.

The unusual analysis published today in the CDC’s weekly bulletin stemmed from the agency’s effort to determine if reports from some states about spikes in heroin use and related deaths since 2010 were part of a larger nationwide trend. They found a growing problem with fatal overdoses of heroin.

Health officials have focused in recent years on reducing abuse of prescription opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin. Overdoses of those medicines quadrupled from 1999 through 2010, while heroin, a cheaper and more available alternative, increased by less than 50 percent. The report confirms heroin has made a comeback in 28 states, as noted by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin who said in January his state was in a “full-blown heroin crisis.”

Deaths from heroin overdoses rose across the board: in both genders, all ages, all racial and ethnic groups and all regions of the country, the CDC report found.

“The findings indicate a need for intensified prevention efforts aimed at reducing overdose deaths from all types of opioids,” the report found. “Efforts to prevent expansion of the number of opioid pain reliever users who might use heroin when it is available should continue.”

Death Toll

There were 3,635 heroin deaths in 2012, an increase from 1,779 two years earlier. While the crackdown on opioid abuse may have led users to heroin, painkillers are still more deadly. Opioid overdoses killed 9,869 Americans in 2012, down 5.4 percent from 2010.

Additional data suggests that prescription painkillers may be a gateway drug to heroin use, the report said. Three-quarters of patients in a rehabilitation program who started using heroin after 2000 said the first opioid they took was a prescription medication. More than 80 percent of people who began using heroin in the 1960s said they started with the drug.

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