New CDC Study Shows Prescription Drug Abuse Has Strong Link to Rising Heroin Use

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new study on heroin use in the U.S., and its results were startling: Not only has heroin use gone up at an alarming rate, but users are increasingly likely to try heroin after addiction to prescription drugs.

The CDC study found:

  • More than nine in 10 people who used heroin also used at least one other drug — and more than four in 10 were addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.
  • While heroin use has gone up across almost all groups in the U.S., the study saw some of the largest increases in groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women, people with private insurance, and those with higher incomes.
  • More than 8,200 people died from heroin overdoses in 2013 — which has quadrupled since 2002.

People who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin. Why? They’re both derived from the same plant and have similar effects on the body. While heroin is illegal, it’s cheaper than prescription opioids, and people addicted to prescription opioids frequently turn to heroin when they run out of prescription options. Like its opioid painkiller counterparts, heroin is a highly addictive drug, and the common practice of using heroin along with other drugs is especially dangerous because it increases the risk of overdose. Opioids – prescription or heroin, and especially in combination – slow the user’s heart rate down dramatically. In an overdose situation, the heart can completely stop beating.

This pattern can have devastating effects on people, families and communities around the country. Take this tragic example from the National Safety Council: High-school student Louie was prescribed painkillers for a football injury and formed an addiction to them, leading him to use heroin. At age 24, he died of a heroin overdose.

So what do we do? CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden and USA TODAY medical reporter Liz Szabo hosted a Twitter #HeroinChat this month to bring together partners and the public to discuss effective strategies for combatting heroin use — including safe prescribing practices on the part of health care providers, expanded access to addiction treatment and the role of law enforcement in curbing the epidemic.

Here are several meaningful tweets from the #HeroinChat:

Another way to prevent heroin use from starting is the safe, in-home deactivation and disposal of prescription drugs. Deterra empowers people to reverse the heroin trend by taking action in their own homes to ensure prescription opioids don’t fall into the wrong hands in the first place.