Heroin use has dramatically increased across the U.S., spreading to groups it hadn’t previously reached, and deaths from overdose have soared, according to a new federal report released Tuesday.
Heroin deaths nearly quadrupled in the decade between 2002 and 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Rates of abuse doubled among women and went up 50 percent among men during the same time period.
“Heroin use in the United States increased 63 percent from 2002 through 2013. This increase occurred among a broad range of demographics, including men and women, most age groups, and all income levels,” the CDC says in its report, attributing much of the increase to users who started abusing prescription painkillers and then moved on to heroin.
“What’s most striking and troubling is that we’re seeing heroin diffusing throughout society to groups that it hasn’t touched before,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden told NBC News.
“We’re seeing heroin affecting people in urban and rural areas, white, black and Hispanic, low middle and high income. We’re seeing heroin diffusing throughout society but we can turn this around.”
The reasons are complicated — drug abuse overall is up, and more people are using prescription painkillers. Heroin is a cheap and more easily available alternative to these prescription drugs for people who become addicted to them.
“They are addicted to prescription opiates because they are essentially the same chemical with the same effect on the brain as heroin,” Frieden told a news conference. “Heroin costs roughly 5 times less than prescription opiates on the street.”
Not only that, but cheaper, purer heroin is coming into the United States. This makes it easier to overdose. “Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013,” CDC said.
The absolute numbers are still low — fewer than 1 percent of people abuse heroin, CDC said.
For the report, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2002-2013. This report captures thousands of Americans, but misses the military, homeless and prison populations. So it may actually understate the extent of the heroin abuse problem.
“Annual average rates of past-year heroin use increased from 1.6 per 1,000 persons aged 12 years or older in 2002-2004 to 2.6 per 1,000 in 2011-2013,” the report reads.
“In 2013, an estimated 517,000 persons reported past-year heroin abuse or dependence, a nearly 150 percent increase since 2007,” CDC added.
“During 2002-2013, heroin overdose death rates nearly quadrupled in the United States, from 0.7 deaths to 2.7 deaths per 100,000 population, with a near doubling of the rates from 2011-2013.”
Heroin kills by causing slow and shallow breathing. Multiple drug use worsens the effect. “People often use heroin along with other drugs or alcohol. This practice is especially dangerous because it increases the risk of overdose,” CDC said.
Heroin users also risk getting infections like HIV and hepatitis.
The report fits in with what other government agencies have been saying.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration found a four-fold increase in heroin seizures along the southwest border since 2008, with 4,653 pounds being confiscated last year.
Frieden says law enforcement needs help stopping it. “The less accessible it is and the more difficult and the more expensive it is to get, the fewer people will use it,” he said.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Maggie Fox