26 Oct Deaths by Heroin Double, CDC Says
Anecdotal evidence supports the notion that heroin use has been rising and that addiction to prescription opioids is the key factor driving this phenomenon. Because of high costs and reduced access to legal drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, addicts hooked on these substances are turning to an interchangeable street drug to satisfy their urges. Heroin has a longstanding bad reputation, but the desperation-inducing capacity of opioid dependency is so powerful that sufferers will try anything if they believe it will quench their thirst, according to addiction experts and law enforcement officers working on the drug war front line.
And we now have some hard, solid facts to back up these assertions. In the Oct. 3, 2014, online edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the results of a three-year study that took a detailed look at emerging patterns in American opioid consumption. Analyzing data obtained from 28 states and representing 56 percent of the U.S. population, the CDC research team discovered that heroin use has indeed been increasing while prescription opioid abuse has been declining—and the effects of both types of drug abuse have been tragic and deadly.
From 2009 to 2012, heroin use in the United States rose 74 percent, and that goes a long way toward explaining why death by heroin overdose has been trending upward during the same time period. In the 28 states that provided comprehensive data to the CDC, the number of deaths linked to heroin overdose jumped from 1,779 in 2010 to 3,665 in 2012. The latter number translates to an annual death rate of 2.1 per 100,000 people and represents a more than 100 percent increase in just two years’ time. Levels of heroin use were especially high in the Northeast, where rates went up 211 percent and in New York City alone, the death toll reached an astonishing 6.2 per 100,000. Hundreds of people have been dying prematurely in New York City from the effects of heroin, and addiction experts fear this may be a preview of what the rest of the country will soon be facing.
Interestingly, the number of deaths attributable to prescription opioid overdose declined slightly from 2010 to 2012, dropping from 10,427 to 9,869. In percentages, this signifies a decrease from 6.0 annual fatalities per 100,000 Americans to 5.6 per 100,000, which means that despite the drop-off, prescription painkillers are still killing almost three times as many people than heroin. Only in New York City has heroin surpassed prescription opioids in the forced mortality category, and it remains to be seen if what has been happening in the United States’ largest city eventually becomes the norm.
The CDC researchers took a sampling of heroin abusers in treatment programs all across the country, and were alarmed to find that 75 percent of those who had begun using the drug after the year 2000 had started out abusing prescription opioids before switching over. No such correlation was found in addicts who had gotten involved with heroin earlier, so this represents pretty powerful evidence in support of the theory that the sudden growth in heroin consumption correlates with prescription drug dependency.
If prescription painkillers were not so widely used, the situation might not seem so bleak. But even raised awareness about their addictive qualities has not stopped doctors from prescribing them routinely for moderate to severe pain. As painkillers these drugs are highly effective, which puts them in demand and makes them hard to eliminate.
Shift in Supply Chain
With this new study, the CDC has verified the reality of heroin’s reemergence on the illegal drug scene. It has also reaffirmed the role prescription opioids are playing in the return of a scary street drug that many had thought was in permanent decline. The numbers tell the story and the story they tell is frightening and ominous.
A shift in the supply chain is bringing copious amounts of heroin into the U.S. from Mexico, and perhaps in part because sources are closer than in the past, the drug’s price has dropped precipitously. Consequently, heroin has become a far cheaper alternative for the opioid addict in comparison to illegally obtained oxycodone or hydrocodone. Single doses of heroin can be purchased for $10 online, and DEA seizure statistics prove that more heroin is currently entering the U.S. than just a few years ago. Simultaneously, tamper-proof formulas and tighter restrictions on prescriptions are making it harder for opioid addicts to get their hands on usable versions of the pills they formerly craved, and it is clear that more and more of these hopeless individuals will turn to heroin if it remains cheap and available in abundance.
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