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Alarming Rise in Heroin Deaths Linked to Opiate Painkiller Prescriptions

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A recent report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics reveals an alarming increase in heroin-related deaths between the years of 2010 and 2013. Even more shocking, the study suggests a strong correlation between the spike and the increase in patients being prescribe opioid-based medications. These numbers validate the need to reduce the opiate and opioid prescribing rates that have clearly had far reaching negative effects on the communities in which they are prevalent.

Deaths Are Accelerating

The report revealed that the death rate of heroin users rose from just 0.7 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2000 to 2.7 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2013. Between 2010 and 2013, the heroin death rate rose even faster; coming in at 37 percent in the last four years alone and at a 6 percent increase in the last decade. Additionally, the rate of heroin overdoses were four times higher for men than for women in the study. These numbers bring to light a trend indicating that heroin deaths aren’t just increasing, they are accelerating rapidly.

Opiates Role in Heroin Deaths

In 2014, physicians wrote over 259 million prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers. This equates to one bottle for every adult in the U.S. Experts blame the rising numbers of individuals taking opiate-based medication as a major factor in heroin deaths. Prescription opiates are highly addictive, even when controlled and dispensed by responsible physicians. When individuals become addicted to opiate medications but can no longer obtain a prescription, they look to cheaper street drugs to fill their needs. Heroin is often the drug that fits the bill both for cost and availability. In fact, reliable research shows that one in every 15 people who are prescribed opiates will go on to try heroin within 10 years. Addiction Psychiatrist, Dr. Howard Forman says that “prescription opiates are the gateway drug par excellence”. Because heroin is illegal and is therefore unregulated and untracked, officials expect heroin deaths to continue their surge.

The New Heroin Demographic

The profile of an average heroin user has also changed dramatically over the past decade as well. It was the drug of choice for poverty stricken African Americans, but now it is the drug of choice for affluent middle-age Caucasian populations. Heroin dealers have now infiltrated suburban neighborhoods where using the drug was previously unthinkable. The way that this new user demographic is using heroin has changed too. Instead of injecting it, most users now opt to take it intra-nasally or in pill form. In addition to the obvious death and health risks associated with heroin use, this new surge in popularity causes another societal risk. As more and more people use it, it becomes more commonplace, which then causes others to use it as well.

We Need Change in Prescribing Methods

Addiction experts and physicians agree that opiate-based painkillers play an important role in treating modern pain patients. However they should not be the go-to solution so frequently prescribed today. Physicians must look to other medications and treatment methods for pain. This is one way to decrease the overdose and addiction risk for their patients. In addition, the general public needs more education to inform them why a physician doesn’t prescribe opiates for minor pain issues. This should lessen the number of cases where patients request painkillers because a friend or family member uses them.

Sources

Heroin Deaths Four Times Greater Than Three Years Ago. Lancaster Online. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
Heroin Overdose Deaths Quadruple Over Last Decade, As Painkillers Open Fatal Gateway. Medical Daily. Retrieved March 5, 2015.

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