As the federal government and the implementation of state prescription drug monitoring programs make it more difficult for opioid abusers to get their hands on OxyContin ® (oxycodone), many have turned to heroin as an easier, cheaper and stronger alternative. When compared to a decade ago, today it is much easier for opioid addicts to get their hands on heroin – resulting in a surge of heroin overdoses across the country.
“Most people who use heroin in the U.S. today used prescription opioids first. Reducing inappropriate prescribing will prevent overdose from prescription opioids and heroin,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a news release.
Heroin overdose deaths nearly tripled from 2010 to 2013 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In California, emergency departments have seen a six-fold increase in heroin poisonings in the last decade, Reuters reports. In 2014 alone, California emergency rooms treated 1,300 young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 for heroin poisoning.
“It’s consistent with what we’re seeing in our narcotic treatment programs – just a lot more young people,” said Tom Renfree, who heads substance abuse disorder services for the County Behavioral Health Directors Association in Sacramento.
“There’s been a real spike.”
Heroin poisoning is not exclusive to overdoses; it also represents those who used a product ‘cut’ with something potentially lethal, according to the article. Across the country, there has been a rise in heroin cut with the opioid analgesic Fentanyl ®, users are often unaware just how powerful Fentanyl ® (100 times the strength of morphine) is, making dosing extremely difficult.
Young adults were not the only age group affected in recent years. During the same period, adults ages 30 to 39 who were seen in emergency rooms for heroin poisoning doubled – from about 300 to about 600. Among teenagers, in 2014 there were 367 teens treated for heroin poisoning – compared with about 250 in 2005.