The number of heroin-related overdose deaths jumped 39 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to data released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That equals out to about 2,000 more deaths in the span of just 12 months, a significant uptick that has public health officials alarmed.
The new CDC data shows that heroin-related deaths surged from 5,925 in 2012 to 8,257 in 2013. Overall, deaths from drug overdoses increased to 43,982 from 41,340 during the same period. The increase in heroin deaths contributed to an overall 6 percent jump in total drug overdose deaths.
The rise has been attributed to changes in laws over prescription opioids, causing many painkiller users to look for other, cheaper options. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the number of people who had used heroin in the past year rose from 2012 to 2013.
“These troubling statistics illustrate a grim reality: that drug-, and particularly opioid- abuse, represents a growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
While prescription opioids cause more deaths than heroin, the rise in heroin-related overdose deaths is an alarming trend that shows many people are simply switching from a legal opioid to an illicit one. As I’ve written about previously on PublicHealthWatch, many experts are concerned about the increasing numbers of painkiller users using turning to heroin, as heroin use is a far more dangerous phenomenon.
Without regulation or standard dosing, users of heroin are at a higher risk of accidental overdose due to unexpectedly potent “batches” of the drug. Even more troubling, however, is that heroin use – which most often involves injection of the drug – is associated with a wide range of communicable diseases, including hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.
One of the recent solutions to the rise in overdose deaths has been to have local police carry naloxone, a prescription drug that can reverse an opioid or heroin overdose if administered in time. The Obama administration has called for equipping police officers with naloxone — which is commonly used in emergency rooms— since they’re often the first officials to make contact with someone who’s overdosing. To date, 24 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws expanding access to naloxone.
The World Health Organization estimated earlier this month that expanding access to naloxone in the U.S. could save as many as 20,000 lives every year.