Heroin-Related Deaths Jump 533% Since 2002, Report Says

By Britni de la Cretaz 09/15/17

According to new data, under 40% of people with heroin use disorder will receive treatment. 

graphic chart depicting heroin overdose deaths in the US
Chart downloaded via Statista

The newly released 2016 National Survey on Drug Use And Mental Health shows the staggering increase in opioid use in the United States over the past 14 years.

The number of drug users, particularly opioid users, are way up. That’s not necessarily surprising. But perhaps most sobering is the increase in fatal overdoses. A Forbes infographic (see below) shows that heroin-related deaths have jumped an estimated 533% since 2002—from 2,089 to 13,219 in 2016.

That number is much larger than the recorded increase in heroin users—which went from 404,000 in 2002 to 948,000 in 2016 (an increase of 135%).

A major reason why heroin-related deaths may be spiking so much more than the number of heroin users could be the introduction of fentanyl, an opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. 

Fnd more statistics at Statistic

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, fentanyl was involved in an astonishing 74% of the state’s opioid-related overdose deaths (that had a toxicology screen) in 2016.

In December 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a report showing a three-fold increase in overdose deaths between 2010 and 2014, saying that fentanyl-related overdose deaths were “rising at an alarming rate.” Fentanyl is now being recognized as another crisis, of sorts, within the opioid crisis itself.

The DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) explained that fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or counterfeit prescription opioid pills. Users are often unaware that their drugs have been mixed with fentanyl, which increases the chances of a fatal overdose.

"Sadly, this report reconfirms that opioids such as heroin and fentanyl—and diverted prescription pain pills—are killing people in this country at a horrifying rate," acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said at the time. "We face a public health crisis of historic proportions. Countering it requires a comprehensive approach that includes law enforcement, education, and treatment."

One of the most widely embraced methods of reducing overdose deaths has been making naloxone, an opioid antagonist that can reverse an overdose (also known as Narcan), more available to first responders and the general public. Some colleges and universities are even making it freely available on their campuses.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.