Heroin use, as well as deaths from the drug, are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heroin addiction has risen in demographics in which use of the drug is traditionally low, including women, people with higher incomes, and those who carry private insurance, the organization reports.
Prescription opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin, are the greatest risk factor driving heroin addiction, according to the agency. Use of these drugs often continues, along with consumption of heroin, the CDC report stated. Approximately 96 percent of heroin users also use other drugs, according to the CDC.
This combination, coupled with lower prices for heroin, drove overdose deaths up 400 percent from 2002 to 2013. Around 8,200 Americans died from heroin overdoses in 2013, the CDC reported.
"There are lots of people who have not yet gotten an opiate and we need to protect them from the risk of getting addicted," Thomas Frieden, CDC director, said.
The report states that 3.6 percent of men and 1.6 percent of women are current heroin users. These figures are up from 2.4 and 0.8 percent, respectively, in 2002-2004. Highest use of the illegal narcotic is still among those people earning less than $20,000 a year — 5.5 percent in 2011-2013, up 62 percent from nine years before, when usage among that demographic stood at 3.4 percent.
"Heroin is typically injected but is also smoked or snorted. When people inject heroin, they are at risk of serious, long-term viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B, as well as bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream, and heart," the CDC reports.
The federal agency recommends a three-fold approach to reducing damage done by heroin. The first step they outline includes reducing the number of people who try heroin by improving prescription narcotic practices and identifying high-risk patients early. The second step is to reduce heroin addiction through the use of medication-assisted-treatment (MAT), including the use of methadone, naltrexone or other heroin substitutes. Such treatment would also include behavioral therapies and counseling. The report also calls for the increased availability of naloxone, which can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose, saving lives. Undertaking such measures would require an "all-society response" to the public health issue many observers are describing as a crisis.
Frieden stated that doctors are prescribing prescription opiates too often, leading to a rise in the use of heroin, as well as deaths from narcotic overdose. He also called for a greater response from law enforcement to drive down availability of the drug.
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