Heroin use in the United States almost doubled in two decades

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By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, February 11, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Nearly twice as many people in the United States used heroin in 2018 than in 2002, a new government study shows.

"I think the increase in heroin use is probably due to abuse of prescription opioids. People tend to switch from prescription opioids to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain," said Dr. Lawrence Brown Jr. , addiction treatment specialist. He is CEO of the START Treatment and Recovery Centers in New York City, and did not participate in the new study.

During the same period, heroin overdose deaths also increased, from just under 2,100 deaths in 2002 to more than 15,000 deaths in 2018, according to the study's supporting information.

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UU. The CDC reported that the people most at risk of heroin addiction are people addicted to prescription opioids; people addicted to cocaine, marijuana or alcohol; mens; white people; people from 18 to 25 years old; and people living in urban areas.

People who are addicted to prescription opioids can turn to heroin as a replacement drug if they have difficulty getting their prescriptions, Brown said. People usually start smoking heroin, then inhale it and finally inject it to increase the effect.

Every day, an average of 130 Americans die due to an opioid overdose (including heroin), the CDC said.

The data for the last study come from a national survey of adults over 18 years. More than 800,000 people responded during the 17-year study.

The researchers found that:

  • Heroin use increased from 0.17% in 2002 to 0.32% in 2018.
  • Heroin injections increased from 0.09% in 2002 to 0.17% in 2018.
  • Heroin use disorder increased from 0.10% in 2002 to 0.21% in 2018.

One possible bright spot: the researchers noted that the increase in heroin use seemed to stabilize between 2016 and 2018.

The findings were published on February 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


According to Dr. Soteri Polydorou, medical director of addiction services at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, "findings like these continue to support the importance of ensuring access to evidence-based medications used to treat opioid consumption ".

Polydorou, who was not involved in the new study, said there are effective therapies, including medications to treat people with heroin addiction or other opioid disorders.

"Patients open to consider treatment for an opioid use disorder should have immediate access to initiate and continue treatment with the use of medications in various clinical settings, such as outpatient clinics, emergency departments, hospitalized patient settings, as well as when they seek specialized addiction treatment services, "Polydorou advised.

Brown said there must be greater availability of medications to treat opioid addiction, as well as medications to treat overdose.

"We have not come so far in providing the treatment we need. It is not always easy to find an accredited program in your area. It is changing, but not fast enough," Brown said.

Researchers, from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. UU. (SAMHSA) and the US National Institutes of Health. UU., They said the findings point to the need for greater access to HIV and hepatitis testing and treatment, as well as programs that provide free sterile needles. These viruses can spread when people share needles.

Medications that can treat opioid use disorder should also be more available, said Dr. Beth Han of SAMHSA and her colleagues. And efforts to prevent abuse and opioid abuse must also be intensified.

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SOURCES: Lawrence Brown Jr., M.D., M.P.H., CEO, START Treatment and recovery centers, New York City; Soteri Polydorou, M.D., medical director, addiction services, Northwell Health, New Hyde Park, N.Y .; February 11, 2020,Journal of the American Medical Association

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