Deaths caused by heroin overdoses more than doubled between 2010 to 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
In a report released Friday, a study conducted in 28 states across the U.S. showed heroin overdoses increasing from 1,779 in 2010 to 3,635 in 2012. The report also shows a decrease in overdose deaths linked to opiate painkillers, which have dropped from 10, 427 in 2010 to 9,869 in 2012.
The numbers confirm a nationwide surge in heroin use, which has crossed gender, race and economic class barriers, the CDC said.
One explanation for the trend is that heroin has become a cheaper alternative for users already addicted to opiate painkillers.
NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown spoke with Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Quinones about this issue in February.
Oxycodone is very, very similar — almost identical to heroin. The problem is that there is a black market in these pills now, because they have been so widely prescribed. There was a revolution in medicine in the United States back in the ’80s and ’90s that said these pills are nonaddictive ones prescribed to pain patients, chronic pain patients.
So we had this kind of rising sea level of pills all across the country. A very deep black market developed in which these pills now cost a dollar a milligram. Most of these pills come in 30, 40, 80 milligram doses. That means you are having to pay 30, 40, 80 bucks a pill, and a lot of people getting addicted. Their tolerance rises.
They cannot — they end up using three, four, five of these pills. I have met people who had $300-, $400-a-day addictions. Heroin comes in and it is a fifth to a 10th cheaper than that. And if you are already, a lot of these folks, getting addicted to the pills, have already begun injecting.
And when they start injecting, it’s kind of like you crossed the Rubicon in a sense. And so injecting heroin isn’t much different from injecting these pills. It just happens to be far cheaper.
Opiate pain killers, such as OxyContin, can range between $65 to $80 a pill when sold illegally, according to Connecticut Clearinghouse.
The street price in Chicago for a bag of heroin is $10, compared to 10 years ago when a less pure version of the drug ran anywhere from $50 to $150 per bag, TIME reports.
Also impeding public health efforts to curb heroin use are the addictive properties of the drug.
“People have to relapse six to eight, nine, 10 times before they’re actually able to kick the heroin habit,” Quinones told NewsHour.
“Once you start down that slope, it is very difficult. It also has this horribly mangling effect on the families surrounding the people who use it.”
Correction: The original version of this article misrepresented the CDC data of people who died from heroin overdoses from 2010 to 2012 in the United States. According to the CDC, there were 3,635 heroin overdose deaths in 2012, not 3,635 deaths per 100,000 people.