A striking new dimension of our nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic is the escalating number of deaths from #heroin overdose. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4,102 people died as an unintended consequence of heroin overdoses in 2011 (the most recent year for which data are available), compared to 2,789 deaths in 2010—a 47 percent increase in a single year. Heroin overdose deaths had risen somewhat over most of the preceding years (except for 2009-2010, when they actually declined), but the general upward trend had been more gradual, so these numbers come as a wake-up call.
For a few years, NIDA and other Federal partners have been sounding the alarm over the rise in heroin use, particularly among people with addictions to prescription opioids who switch to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain. Half a million Americans are now addicted to heroin, and four out of five recent heroin initiates had previously used prescription opioids non-medically. Public light on this problem was shed earlier this year by the heroin-overdose death of
, who had reportedly begun using heroin after having developed a prescription drug addiction. But the scope and impact of the problem in our society is revealed in CDC’s population-wide numbers, which I discussed last week at a
on the opioid epidemic. In 2011, 11 Americans died every day from heroin overdose—nearly one person every 2 hours. (The same year, 14,091 people died from accidental overdoses of prescription opioids, also a figure that continues to rise steadily; see below.)