Nearly half a million Americans used heroin in 2013, a nearly 150 percent increase since 2007, which is sounding alarm bells for health officials. New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a startling increase among groups of people with historically low rates of heroin use.
While the majority of heroin users are still men, the CDC reported a massive jump in usage among women and non-hispanic whites. In addition, 96 percent of heroin users reported using cocaine and opiods. Combining drugs like heroin and cocaine can be deadly. In 2013, over 8,000 people died of heroin-related overdoses and many of those were caused by combining heroin and cocaine. That number is up from just 1,800 in 2001.
In the wake of a massive HIV outbreak in Indiana attributed to injection drug use, health officials are worried what the increase in the use of heroin, which is often injected, could mean for the spread of infectious diseases.
"As a doctor who started my career taking care of patients with HIV and other complications from injection drugs, it's heartbreaking to see injection drug use making a comeback in the U.S.," Tom Frieden, head of the CDC told NPR.
The new data combined with recent outbreaks in rural areas point to a need for a new approach to tackling HIV. Frieden told NPR that the rise in heroin use is actually related to prescription drug abuse. Heroin costs about one-fifth of prescription narcotics and contain the same active ingredient. The study showed that people abusing prescription drugs are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.
The CDC then made a number of suggestions for tackling the problem, mainly cracking down on drug dealing to drive up heroin prices, offering treatment for addicts, increasing the use of naloxone to prevent death in overdosing patients, and tracking prescriptions for painkillers.