New 2013 mortality data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed discouraging news this week: While drug deaths related to prescription painkillers have remained stable since 2012, deaths related to heroin use have increased by 39 percent.
More than 8,000 people died due to heroin use in 2013 compared with 5,925 in 2012, the CDC reported. The surge in fatalities came amid an overall increase in overdose deaths, which rose from 41,340 to 43,982.
Prescription drug abuse is considered to be at epidemic levels in the United States.
A crackdown on prescription opiates has driven up the price for drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, enticing addicts to switch to cheap heroin and other illicit alternatives to fend off withdrawal symptoms.
The shift toward heroin may also have roots in the decriminalization of marijuana around the country, according to reporting by The Washington Post. Drug enforcement officials working at the southern border seized 2,181 kilograms of heroin in 2014, almost three times the amount seized in 2009.
“Deaths from drug overdose are tragic, and we need to scale up both prevention and treatment of addiction,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Most people who use heroin in the U.S. today used prescription opioids first. Reducing inappropriate prescribing will prevent overdose from prescription opioids and heroin.”
Many of CADCA’s coalitions across the country have been addressing heroin’s spike, including one near Boston, Impact Quincy. Quincy resident Nancy Holler’s son had gotten hooked on OxyContin and then heroin. When he overdosed in her home, paramedics saved Brendan’s life with an injection of the non-addictive, non-toxic drug naloxone hydrochloride, better known as Narcan. The mother became an advocate for all first responders in her hometown to carry nasal Narcan.
Trained by the Impact Quincy coalition and funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, police officers are able to reverse an opioid overdose by administering the Narcan. It was the first police department in the nation to require every officer on patrol to carry nasal Narcan, Alejandro Rivera, the Program Manager for the Prevention Department at Bay State Community Services and the Program Director of Impact Quincy, told CADCA in 2013.
The Department of Justice recently released a toolkit for law enforcement on the use of naloxone. Law enforcement agencies across the nation have equipped and trained officers with naloxone, saving hundreds of lives since the pilot program was launched in 2010 in Quincy.
In 2013, CADCA examined the heroin trend and what other coalitions are doing about this pervasive problem in CADCA TV’s The Highway to Heroin.
Read the CDC’s preliminary report here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf.