Published January 29th, 2015 by Unknown

Are Heroin overdoses on the rise as Prescription Opioid overdoses decline?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., “Reducing inappropriate opioid prescribing remains a crucial public health strategy to address both prescription opioid and heroin overdoses. Addressing prescription opioid abuse by changing prescribing is likely to prevent heroin use in the long term.”

Is this strategy responsible for the latest rise in heroin deaths indicating that these efforts to reign in the supply of prescription painkillers is pushing addicts to use heroin?

Some say that the switch from opioids to heroin is due to the fact that states are making it harder to gain access to prescription opioid painkillers and heroin is cheaper and easier to find. In 2012, the most recent statistics from the Office of National Drug Control Policy stated that nationwide deaths from prescription painkillers dropped 5 percent from 2011, but heroin overdose deaths surged by 35 percent. This is clear in West Virginia where heroin has taken root after authorities cracked down on unscrupulous doctors who were over-prescribing prescription painkillers. They have seen their heroin-overdose death rates triple over the past five years.

“Heroin isn’t necessarily more addictive than OxyContin, but it’s more unpredictable, said Asokumar Buvanendran, an anesthesiology professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Ten milligrams of Oxy is always ten milligrams of Oxy, but with heroin impurities and contamination can make an already dangerous drug even more deadly.”

Recently the CDC analyzed mortality data from 28 states to determine the scope of the heroin overdose death increase and to determine whether increases were associated with changes in opioid pain reliever overdose death rates since 2010. Key Findings from study:

+This new study examined changes in heroin and prescription opioid death rates in 28 states 1 between 2010 and 2012. The 28 states represented 56 percent of the U.S. population.

+From 2010-2012, the overall heroin death rate across the 28 states doubled.

+The sharp heroin overdose increase extends the trend observed in the 2011 national mortality data.

+Five states had increases in prescription opioid death rates, seven states had decreases, and sixteen states had no change.

+Of the 18 states with reliable heroin overdose death rates examined individually in this study, 15 had statistically significant increases in heroin death rates. No state had a decrease in the heroin death rate.

+The increases in state heroin death rates from 2010-2012 were associated with increases in prescription opioid death rates. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin use has been on the rise since 2007. In 2012, about 669,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year, up from about 373,000 in 2007. The greatest increase in heroin use was among young people ages 18 to 25. Closely tied to the rise in heroin use is the rise in prescription opioid abuse, which in 2008 was involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

In 2010, national drug surveys found that more than 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons. Not surprisingly, surveys have found a strong link between the use of prescription opioids and heroin initiation: Nearly 80 percent of people who reported initiating heroin use in the past year had previously abused prescription pain medication; whereas, only 3.6 percent of people who began abusing painkillers reported heroin use in the previous five years. In March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the rise in both heroin- and prescription drug-related overdose an “urgent public health crisis.”

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