Drug Overdose: Results from the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) provide alarming evidence about the rise of substance abuse and related injury in the United States. According to Chuck Rosenberg, Acting Administrator of the DEA, drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. Fatalities from drug overdose are higher than deaths from firearms and motor vehicle accidents. Understanding the scope of this problem will assist public health officials as they propose policy changes to help affected individuals receive proper treatment.
Painkillers and Heroin Account for Half of the Drug Overdose Fatalities
One of the most striking findings of the NDTA study is the role of opioid drugs in causing overdose fatalities. Public attention focuses on marijuana, which remains the most widely used illicit substance in the country. However, other drugs account for a high risk of injury or death, particularly prescription painkillers and heroin.
Whether in the form of prescription medications or heroin, opioids can be incredibly dangerous. These drugs directly affect the central nervous system, causing a lowered heart rate, decreased breathing, and feelings of euphoria. Furthermore, opioids cross into the brain to act on the brain’s reward pathways. Using opioids even one or two times can strongly reorganize this reward network, contributing to opioid addiction.
From 2007 through 2010, respondents to the NDTA study listed cocaine as the greatest drug threat to the United States. Since 2010, however, opioids have been rising dramatically in this threat assessment. In 2015, nearly 40% of study respondents said that heroin was the greatest threat. In addition, 15% reported controlled prescription drugs (often opioids) as the biggest concern.
Other Findings of the Report Include the Following:
More than 46,000 People in the United States Died from a Drug Overdose in 2013
This high rate of overdose translates to 120 deaths per day as the direct result of drug overdose. Still more people die from complications related to prolonged drug abuse or violence associated with drug crimes.
Heroin Abuse is on the Rise, Causing Widespread Public Health Concern
Availability of heroin is on the rise across the United States, fueled in part by drug trafficking from Mexico and South America. According to a recent study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of current heroin users increased 51% from 2013 to 2014. People addicted to prescription painkillers may be partially responsible for this rise. The National Drug Threat Assessment found that heroin use is growing among people who abuse prescription drugs, suggesting that prescription opioids may be a gateway drug to heroin addiction.
Respondents to the NDTA said that heroin availability and use are increasing. Approximately 53% of respondents said heroin availability was “high” or “moderate” in their area, while 65% said that availability of the drug is increasing. This is consistent with data on drug seizures, with an 81% increase in heroin seizures (by kilogram) from 2010 to 2014. Not only is the total volume of heroin seizures increasing, but the size of individual seizures has gotten larger as well.
A Potentially Deadly Combination of Fentanyl and Heroin Is Growing in Popularity
Use of fentanyl is a growing problem in the United States. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid compound that is 25 to 40 times more potent than heroin. This makes it highly addictive and dangerous, given its strong effects on central nervous system functioning. From late 2013 to early 2015, there were 700 reported deaths related to fentanyl in the United States. Fentanyl may be used in isolation (often marketed as “regular” heroin) or added to batches of heroin. The combination of fentanyl and heroin is particularly potent and deadly.
With the rise of heroin and prescription opioid abuse, effective treatments are greatly needed. The Waismann Method Center is on the forefront of providing effective drug detoxification and compassionate care to people struggling with opioid addiction.
National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved on November 10, 2015.