Deadly US heroin epidemic driven by whites, women and the rich – CDC survey

Reuters / David Ryder
A new survey has found that US heroin addiction more than doubled over the space of 10 years among white people and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdose levels also soared to 8,200 – twice as many as in 2011.

CDC health officials said that the US is in the grip of a heroin epidemic, with abuse of the drug doubling among 18-25 year olds, doubling for women, and rising among white people by 114 percent over a decade from 2002 to 2013. The survey also found heroin use to have increased across America within most demographics – men, women, most age groups and all income levels.

Researchers also noted a 60 percent uptick in the abuse of the drug among people with higher incomes.

Overall, the number of people using heroin grew by 300,000 between 2002 and 2013.

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There are currently about 500,000 people addicted to the drug in the US, the CDC stated in its Vital Signs report. The data comes from an annual national face-to-face survey the CDC conducted with 67,000 Americans, and includes comparisons with data from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Not only are people using heroin, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioid painkillers,” said CDC health officials in the report.

The survey found that more than nine in 10 people were using heroin alongside at least one other drug, and 45 percent of people who used heroin were addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

The survey found that the increased availability and lower price of heroin has been identified as a potential contributor to the rising rates of use. The Drug Enforcement Administration said the amount of heroin seized each year has quadrupled, from 500 kilograms from 2002-2008 to 2,196 kilograms in 2013. The increase of supply also led to a decline in price and an increase in purity. Heroin currently costs five times less than painkillers do, while having many of the same active ingredients.

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The other factor driving use is legislation enacted concerning prescription opioids. Fatal poisonings and emergency room visits from prescription opioids more than doubled to 300,000 nationwide between 2004 and 2008, leading to a rush of laws to limit use. Under the new rules, primary care doctors consult with board-certified pain specialists before prescribing daily morphine-equivalent doses of 120mg or greater, and this marked the first dosage threshold of its kind in the United States. As a result, people began looking for other alternatives.