Health officials revealed that for the first time ever, there were more deaths related to heroin than gun homicides in 2015, contributing to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993.
Deaths from heroin rose by 2,000 since 2015, marking the first time since the 1990s that heroin deaths surpassed deaths from prescription opioid painkillers. While gun homicides numbered 12,979 in 2015 and heroin abuse claimed a staggering 12,989 lives. Gun homicides outnumbered heroin fatalities by five to one in 2007.
Opioid deaths stood at roughly 30,000 in 2015, according to a new report from the CDC released Thursday, an increase of 5,000 over 2014. The emergence of fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer approximately 10,000 times stronger than morphine, is contributing to the disturbing year-over-year spikes in opioid deaths, reports The Washington Post.
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement Thursday. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems. We need to drastically improve both the treatment of pain and the treatment of opioid use disorders and increase the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdose.”
The news comes after a similarly alarming report from the DEA Tuesday showed nearly 80 people died everyday from heroin or prescription opioid overdoses in 2014, which is the most recent available data on overdoses nationwide. Drug overdoses in the U.S. claimed roughly 129 lives every day in 2014 and are creating a “crisis of historic proportions.”
Heroin overdoses tripled between 2010 and 2014, according to the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), released by the DEA Tuesday.
Use of prescription painkillers is now more widespread in the U.S. than using tobacco. Many people who overdose on substances like heroin began with a dependence on prescription painkillers, but switch after building high tolerances that made them too expensive.
The DEA warns that even heroin users with extremely high tolerances are more likely to have a fatal overdose due to the presence of carfentanil and fentanyl.
“The presence of carfentanil in illicit U.S. drug markets is cause for concern, as the relative strength of this drug could lead to an increase in overdoses and overdose-related deaths, even among opioid-tolerant users,” according to the NDTA. “Public health officials maintain that fentanyl is contributing to most of this increase [overdoses]. Fentanyl is sometimes added to heroin batches, or mixed with other adulterants and sold as counterfeit heroin, unknown to the user.”
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