Heroin-related overdose deaths have doubled since 2011

CDC calls for an 'all-society response' to combat misuse

Heroin use has dramatically increased among women and middle-income Americans, according to a new CDC and FDA report released Tuesday.

The report was based on data from national surveys on substance misuse.

Overall, the report found there were as many as 8,200 heroin overdose deaths in 2013—double the amount from 2011, and nearly quadruple the amount from 2002. And researchers found that more than 500,000 U.S. residents used or were addicted to heroin in 2013, an increase of almost 150% since 2007.

Heroin use by demographic group

According to the report, heroin use in the United States has increased among all income levels and genders, with heroin use being especially prevalent in the Northeast, among individuals ages 18 to 25, and among white males.

In addition, the report noted:

  • The number of women using heroin doubled over the decade;
  • The number of individuals using heroin in households with annual incomes of at least $50,000 increased by 60%; and
  • The number of heroin users with private health coverage increased by 62%.

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Reasons for increase

According to the report, the increase in heroin overdose deaths likely stems from the lower costs of the drug. CDC Director Tom Frieden says, "Everything we see points to more accessible, less-expensive heroin all over the country."

The report found that the strongest risk factor for eventual heroin use was misuse of prescription opioids, with individuals who misuse the painkillers being 40 times more likely to also use heroin. In comparison:

  • Cocaine users were about 15 times more likely to use heroin;
  • Marijuana users were about three times more likely to use heroin; and
  • Alcohol users were about two times more likely to use heroin.

Overall, 75% of all new heroin users first misused prescription opioids, according to the report.

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According to Frieden, health care providers prescribe "way too much of" prescription opioids, "and the result of it is large numbers of people who are addicted." He adds, "Prescription opiates have become a gateway drug."

CDC calls for an 'all-society response'

Frieden says an "all-society response" is needed to reverse the trend, including expanded access to effective treatments and increased use of drugs such as naloxone, which can reverse the effects of drug overdoses. Other recommendations include improving opioid prescribing practices; and partnerships with law enforcement officials, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, to curb the country's heroin supply.

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In addition, Frieden says greater use of electronic prescription monitoring is needed to help address prescription opioid misuse. "There are lots of people who have not yet gotten an opiate and we need to protect them from the risk of getting addicted," he adds (Steenhuysen, Reuters, 7/7;  Hardiman, The Hill, 7/7; Wetzstein, Washington Times, 7/7; Szabo, USA Today, 7/7; Robeznieks, Modern Healthcare, 7/7 [subscription required]; Bernstein, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/7).

The takeaway: The number of U.S. overdose deaths related to heroin use doubled between 2011 and 2013 and nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, according to a new report from CDC and FDA.

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