Heroin use increased 63% over the past decade. Correspondingly, there has been a rapid increase in heroin overdose deaths. The number of heroin overdose deaths nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, and in 2013 more than 8,200 people died from the narcotic. Overdoses have nearly quadrupled since 2002, the officials said.
These findings were published in the July 7 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Surprisingly, the biggest increases in heroin use in recent years were found in groups that typically aren’t expected to go near the drug, including women, people with private insurance and higher-income individuals, the report said.
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said, “Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society. And the problem is being driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin.” “It’s really a one-two punch,” Frieden said during a media briefing. “Those two factors are driving the increase, and will drive the strategies we need to pursue to turn this around.”
“This expansion of heroin use can be largely chalked up to an earlier wave of prescription opioid drug abuse, including such drugs as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet”, said Brad Lander, an addiction medicine specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The majority of opioid prescriptions have been prescribed to women and wealthy with private insurance.
CDC officials stated that states can play a leading role in reversing the heroin epidemic, by increasing access to substance-abuse treatment services. The CDC urged states to also make prescription-monitoring programs easier for doctors and pharmacists to use. States also should review their Medicaid and workers’ compensation programs to identify trends of inappropriate prescribing, the CDC said.
“In the meantime, addiction treatment — rather than law enforcement or new legislation — will be the best way to minimize the harm from heroin abuse”, Lander said.
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