Opioid deaths dip while heroin deaths increase

October 16, 2014

The number of opioid-prescription overdoses declined slightly in 2012, but the number of heroin deaths continued to increase, according to a new government report.

The number of opioid-prescription overdoses declined slightly in 2012, but the number of heroin deaths continued to increase, according to a new government report.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests opioid abusers may be graduating to heroin, as law enforcement officials have cracked down on the illegal prescription market.

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According to the report, in 2011 there were 16,917 overdose deaths from painkillers such as OxyContin. In 2012, such deaths dropped 5% to 16,007. However, even as opioid overdose death dipped slightly, heroin deaths surged 35% from 4,397 in 2011 to 5,927 in 2012.

“This study is another reminder of the seriousness of the prescription opioid overdose epidemic and the connection to heroin overdoses,” said Grant Baldwin, PhD, MPH, CDC’s director, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. “CDC and other federal agencies are working to promote a smart, coordinated approach to reduce inappropriate prescribing and help people addicted to these drugs.”

 

For many, opioid prescriptions have been identified as a gateway to heroin. The CDC said three out of four new heroin users report having abused prescription opioids prior to using heroin.

“Reducing inappropriate opioid prescribing remains a crucial public health strategy to address both prescription opioid and heroin overdoses,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Addressing prescription opioid abuse by changing prescribing is likely to prevent heroin use in the long term.”


The CDC study was based on opioid and prescription death rates in 28 states, which represented 56% of the population of the United States.