New figures released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday highlight the severity of America's opioid epidemic and the dangers of the rising use of heroin in the country.

More Than 50,000 Overdose-Related Deaths

The number of overdose-related deaths in the U.S. in 2010 was 38,329. The figure climbed to 52,404 in 2015. Drug abuse in essence is more lethal than firearms, which killed a total of 36,252 in 2015.

Heroin Accounts For 25 Percent Of Drug Overdoses

The latest numbers also showed that in 2015, one in four drug overdoses was related to heroin, marking a dramatic increase from the numbers in 1999 when only 6 percent of all overdoses were related to the drug.

Deaths related to opioids, which include heroin, comprised majority of the overall cases of overdose representing 60 percent of overdose deaths. In 2010, the percentage was only about 50 percent.

"Rates of drug overdose deaths continued to increase. In 2015, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths (16.3 per 100,000) was more than 2.5 times the rate in 1999 (6.1). Increases were seen for both males (from 8.2 in 1999 to 20.8 in 2015) and females (from 3.9 in 1999 to 11.8 in 2015)," CDC said in its report.

Holly Hedegaard, from the National Center for Health Statistics, who is also one of the authors of the study, said that this is the first time that the number of overdose deaths in the U.S. exceeded 50,000.

Rising Number Of Heroin Users In The US

The U.S. has seen a significant increase in the number of heroin users, which can be attributed to the spike in heroin-related deaths in the country. Figures from the United Nation's World Drug Report 2016 showed that there were about 1 million heroin users in the U.S. in 2014, or nearly three times higher than the number in 2003.

Causes Of The Heroin Usage Trend

Many theories attempt to determine the cause of the heroin use spike in the U.S. but what appears to be the best explanation for the rising use of the drug is the crackdown on prescription drugs which include OxyContin and Vicodin, whose painkilling effects are comparable to heroin.

Opioid painkillers are legal prescription drugs while heroin is an illegal drug. As doctors slowed down the prescription of the legal drugs, users apparently opted to use heroin to avoid withdrawal.

Dangers Of Heroin Abuse

Heroin is a powerful opioid that can cause "pretty quick highs." Unfortunately, abuse poses dangers that can cause serious health problems or even death.

Overdosing on heroin can slow or even stop breathing, which can reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition known as hypoxia, whose possible effects include coma and permanent brain damage.

Reversing Effects Of Drug Overdose

Authorities hope that making opioid and heroin overdose antidotes such as naloxone more widely available can help save lives.

"Allowing more basic emergency medical service (EMS) staff to administer naloxone could reduce drug overdose deaths that involve opioids," CDC said. "Naloxone is a prescription drug that can reverse the effects of prescription opioid and heroin overdose, and can be life-saving if administered in time."

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