Heroin Deaths Doubled in Two Years

The rate of deadly heroin overdoses doubled from 2010 to 2012, according to a government tally of mortality data. The increase, following years of elevated deaths from prescription painkillers, may reflect addicts migrating from abusing pills to using illicit drugs. ”The findings in this report indicate a growing problem with heroin overdoses superimposed on a continuing problem with [opioid pain reliever] overdoses,” according to the Centers for Disease Control report.

The data were compiled from 28 states, represent more than half the U.S. population, and include deaths involving heroin and, if present, other drugs. The states reported 3,635 overdoses in 2012, up from 1,779 in 2010. Some detailed a more rapidly accelerating problem: In Kentucky, one of the states most devastated by prescription painkiller abuse, heroin deaths nearly tripled from 2010 to 2012.

Meanwhile, prescription opioid fatalities have declined only slightly. Earlier research has established the link between prescription and illicit drug abuse. In surveys of heroin users in a treatment program, “75 percent of those who began opioid abuse after 2000 reported that their first regular opioid was a prescription drug,” the CDC reports. Heroin is often cheaper and more potent than pain pills, and OxyContin, once one of the most widely abused painkillers, was reformulated in 2010 to make it more difficult to inject or snort for a high.

The toll of addiction and overdoses involving both prescription drugs and heroin has spurred a call for the government to take action. Families of overdose victims marched on the National Mall in Washington on Sunday seeking access to better treatment and more restrictions on prescription medications. On Wednesday, the editorial board of USA Today blamed the Food and Drug Administration for approving the painkiller Zohydro without abuse-deterrent formulations. Vermont has begun a statewide experiment in treating addiction as a medical problem rather than a criminal one, with policies focused on treatment and prevention. And local governments in Chicago and California are taking drugmakers to court, accusing them of downplaying painkillers’ risk of addiction.

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