U.S. heroin use up dra­mat­i­cally over last decade


The num­ber of U.S. heroin users has grown by nearly 300,000 over a decade, with the bulk of the in­crease among whites, ac­cord­ing to a new gov­ern­ment re­port.

Ex­perts think the in­crease was driven by peo­ple switch­ing from opi­oid painkillers to cheaper heroin.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­leased the re­port Tues­day. It's based on an­nual face-to-face sur­veys of about 67,000 Amer­i­cans - the gov­ern­ment's main source of data on use of illegal drugs.

In re­cent sur­veys, nearly 3 in ev­ery 1,000 Amer­i­cans said they used heroin in the pre­vi­ous year. That's up from un­der 2 per 1,000 about a decade ago, a 62 per cent in­crease which trans­lates to hun­dreds of thou­sands more peo­ple, re­searchers said.

The find­ings mir­ror trends seen in ear­lier re­ports, which noted marked in­creases in heroin use in peo­ple who are white and liv­ing out­side of ma­jor cities, said Kather­ine Keyes, a Columbia Univer­sity epi­demi­ol­o­gist who re­searches drug abuse is­sues.

But the new re­port of­fers some ad­di­tional de­tails about peo­ple us­ing heroin, gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists said.

While heroin use more than dou­bled among whites, it seemed to level off in other racial and eth­nic groups.

But it grew among dif­fer­ent in­come lev­els, in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. And the rate of heroin use dou­bled in women - a more dra­matic rise than what was seen in men.

For years, of­fi­cials have fo­cused their worry on mis­use of pre­scrip­tion opi­oid painkillers like Vi­codin and Oxy-Con­tin. Ex­perts say re­cent re­stric­tions on pre­scrib­ing such painkillers may be re­duc­ing il­licit sup­plies of them at a time when the heroin sup­ply has been in­creas­ing.

Heroin has be­come a pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive. It is es­sen­tially the same chem­i­cal as that in the pre­scrip­tion painkillers, but it costs roughly five times less on the street, said CDC Di­rec­tor Dr. Tom Frieden.

“An in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are primed for heroin use be­cause they were ad­dicted to an opi­oid painkiller,” Frieden said.

The new re­port found that peo­ple who abused opi­oid painkillers were 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.

The heroin death rate quadru­pled over a decade, reach­ing nearly 8,300 in 2013, with most of the fa­tal over­doses in­volv­ing other drugs at the same time _ most of­ten co­caine.

Deaths in­volv­ing opi­oid painkillers have been lev­el­ling off but con­tinue to be more com­mon than heroin-re­lated deaths, gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics show.

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