A new CDC Vital Signs report released last week found that heroin use has increased in the U.S. among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. Surprisingly, some of the greatest increases in heroin use were among demographic groups that have historically low rates of use: women, the privately-insured, and people with high incomes. Heroin use doubled among women and young adults, while use more than doubled among non-Hispanic whites. The increases in heroin use have led to increased heroin-related overdose deaths. Between 2002-2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, with more than 8,200 people dying in 2013.
Referring to the reasons for the increase in heroin use, CDC director Dr. Thomas Freiden told CNN: “First, more and more people are susceptible to heroin because they have been prescribed prescription opiates, like OxyContin. And the second reason is that heroin itself seems to be cheaper and more widely available.” The CDC report finds that more than 9 in 10 people that used heroin used at least one other drug, with those addicted to opioid painkillers to be 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin. Additionally, 45% of heroin users were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.
There are signs that the U.S. is making progress in curbing opioid painkiller abuse, but it remains the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction. The CDC report calls for increased education and monitoring efforts by state governments and local health care providers. Other suggestions from the CDC include increased access to substance abuse treatment services through the Affordable Care Act, expanded use of Medication-Assisted Treatment, and supported developments of pain medications that are less prone to abuse.