Fatal overdoses from heroin quadrupled over the last five years according to newly released federal data showing the substance accounts for a quarter of all drug deaths.
The National Center for Health Statistics said Friday the massive increase in heroin and general opioid abuse in the U.S. since 2010 is driven by lower drug prices and ever higher potency. The introduction of the opiate based painkiller fentanyl, known to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is also blamed for helping spark the current epidemic. Suppliers cut the substance into heroin batches, increasing the risk of a fatal overdose, reports Fox News.
Authors of the study note in 2010 only eight percent of all fatal drug overdoses stemmed from heroin. In 2015 roughly 25 percent of fatal drug overdoses were caused by heroin.
Much of the turn to heroin can be attributed to increased prescription opioid use over the past decade. Opioid addiction can quickly become expensive due to the costs of pills, whereas heroin may be available at a tenth of the price.
“You are 40 times more likely to use heroin if you started with opioid painkillers,” Rich Hamburg, executive vice president of Trust for America’s Health, told Fox News. “Heroin is part of America’s larger drug abuse problem.”
Researcher found a slight drop in the number of fatal overdoses linked to opioid pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone due to the shift towards heroin since 2010. Prescription painkillers still account for 24 percent of fatal drug deaths in the country.
Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. Combined, heroin, fentanyl and other opiate based painkillers account for roughly 63 percent of drug fatalities, which claimed 52,404 lives in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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