Heroin Use in the United States On the Rise

July 08, 2015|6:57 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

According to CDC’s July Vital Signs report, heroin use in the United States rose 63 percent between 2002 and 2013. Over that same time period, heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 such deaths occurred in 2013 alone. Heroin use is increasing among both men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. However, the greatest increases have occurred in groups with historically lower rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes.

Individuals often use heroin with other substances, including marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and opioid pain relievers. According to the report, nearly all people (96%) who reported using heroin also used at least one other drug in the past year, with more than half (61%) using at least three other drugs. Additionally, groups with an increased risk for heroin abuse or dependence include men, people aged 18–25, non-Hispanic whites, people with an annual household income under $20,000, Medicaid recipients, and uninsured individuals.

"Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden. “To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response–to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin."

State health agencies can play an important role in addressing heroin use, abuse, dependence, and overdose among the growing number of demographic groups who are using heroin. CDC recommends that states:

  • Address the strongest risk factor for heroin abuse or dependence: abuse or dependence on prescription opioid painkillers. Make prescription drug monitoring programs timely and easy to use so that providers can analyze patient prescription drug histories and make informed decisions before prescribing opioid painkillers. Look at the data and practices of state Medicaid and workers’ compensation programs to identify and reduce inappropriate prescribing.
  • Increase access to substance abuse treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid abuse or dependence. Work with Medicaid and other insurance companies to provide coverage for MAT. Support MAT adoption in community settings.
  • Expand access to and training for administering naloxone to reduce opioid overdose deaths.
  • Ensure that people have access to integrated prevention services, including access to sterile injection equipment from reliable sources, as allowed by local policy.
  • Help local jurisdictions put these effective practices to work in communities where drug abuse or dependence is common.

Read more about the heroin epidemic in CDC’s July issue of Vital Signs, in this press release, and in CDC’s heroin epidemic digital press kit.