Published: Sat, February 25, 2017
Medical | By Dorothy Lyons

CDC: Fatal heroin overdoses triple

CDC: Fatal heroin overdoses triple

Overdose deaths in the United States almost tripled from 1990 to 2015, according to new figures released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The states with the highest rates of overdose deaths in 2015 were West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky and OH, the study found. As a result, heroin surpassed gun homicides to become the most lethal killer in 2015.

Rich Hamburg, executive vice president of Trust for America's Health, connected the high rates of heroin use and subsequent overdoses to the drug's low cost compared with prescription opioids. Also, previous research found the release of abuse-deterrent OxyContin correlates to the rising trend of heroin abuse.

"You are 40 times more likely to use heroin if you started with opioid painkillers", Hamburg said, according to Reuters. But a 2015 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the declining price of heroin and its increasing purity might be causing more people to use it.

Drug overdoses in the US are on the rise, and now one in four of them come from heroin.

Heroin and other opioids accounted for about half of these deaths, a reflection of the damage wrought by the prescription painkiller epidemic this decade, said Dr. Edwin Salsitz, an addiction medicine specialist.

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Overdoses outpaced suicides and vehicle crashes as a cause of death in 2015, the report said, according to ABC News. Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the CDC, which estimates that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

In 2015, those aged 45-54 made up the highest percentage of overdose deaths for all age groups (30 deaths per 100,000), followed by those aged 35-44 (28.3), 25-34 (26.9), 55-64 (21.8), 15-24 (9.7) and 65 and up (5.8).

In 2015, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths among non-Hispanic white persons (21.1 per 100,000) was almost 3.5 times the rate in 1999 (6.2). "There's a really good chance the increase involving heroin has to be involved with fentanyl". The percentage of fatal overdoses related to heroin more than tripled from 8 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2015.

In 2010, 29% of fatal overdoses involved so-called "natural" and "semisynthetic" opioids (morphine, oxycodone), while only about 12% involved methadone, a "synthetic" opioid.

Slovis said some illicit synthetic opioids can be 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.

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