There is an almost historic epidemic in heroin use across the country that is affecting both men and women, all age groups, and people at all income levels. The greatest increases are occurring in groups that had usually had lower rates of heroin use in the past, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The report also found that the strongest risk factor for becoming addicted to heroin is having had a problem with prescription opioid drugs. People who abuse or are dependent on prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to abuse or be dependent on heroin. Cocaine users are 15 times more likely to abuse or be dependent on heroin. Ninety-sex percent of people who reported heroin use also reported using at least one other drug in the past year and 61% said they used at least three other drugs.
The death toll from heroin is rising. Heroin-involved overdose deaths nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013; more than 8,200 people died in 2013 alone. From 2002 through 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled.
The gaps between the rate of heroin use by men and women, low and higher incomes, and people with Medicaid and private insurance have narrowed in the past decade.
The report is based on data from the 2002-2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Vital Statistics System.
"Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., in a statement. "To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response - to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin."