Heroin use is on the rise in the United States. Deaths involving heroin have quadrupled since 2000. Opioid overdoses have now become the leading cause of accidental death in the US, killing almost 50,000 Americans a year.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that heroin use is “increasing rapidly across nearly all demographics,” says former commissioner for health and mental hygiene of NYC and current CDC director Tom Frieden. “And with that increase we’re seeing a dramatic rise in deaths.”
The sharp upswing has to do with more people using heroin, according to the report, thanks in part to the drug’s wider availability and lower prices. Drug users have also sought out heroin as a cheaper alternative to prescription opioids.
“They are addicted to prescription opiates because they are essentially the same chemical with the same effect on the brain as heroin,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said at a news conference, according to NBC. “Heroin costs roughly five times less than prescription opiates on the street.”
These findings offer a glimpse into the “real devastation the epidemic is causing to communities across the country,” Frieden said.
Although the CDC’s report is pretty disheartening. But reversing these numbers is still possible, Frieden says. Solutions include preventing heroin addiction through better prescribing practices, increasing access to treatment, and increasing the use of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (also known as Narcan).
“It’s very hard to swim against the tide of cheaper, more accessible heroin. There are areas where we have seen significant decreases, but one of the reasons that we are so focused on getting resources and support to states is for them to try things so we can figure it out. States have a lot of role to play here.”