CDC today released new figures showing a dramatic rise in heroin use and overdose deaths.
Over the past decade, rates of heroin use increased by over 60%, while heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, climbing by a staggering 286%. In 2013 alone, over 8,200 people died from a heroin overdose.
These trends affect people from all walks of life and all corners of society. Heroin use rates doubled in women and in young people aged 18-25. Heroin use also increased across all income levels.
“Heroin is now a major public health crisis,” said Daniel Raymond, Policy Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. “In light of these figures, we call upon Congress and the federal government to provide emergency funding and support to states and communities at the forefront of this epidemic.”
Under Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s Opioid Initiative, the Administration requested an additional $99 million for efforts to address the prescription opioid and heroin crisis, including funding for overdose prevention and drug treatment. Neither of the proposed spending bills from the House of Representatives nor the Senate would fully fund this request.
“Congress must invest additional resources in overdose prevention and treatment,” said Daniel Raymond. “In an emergency, we need swift action to stop the dying and help the suffering. While Congress finalizes the spending bills, Secretary Burwell should make emergency funds available to states struggling under the burden of the heroin crisis.”
Last month CDC published a report authored by Harm Reduction Coalition and colleagues on community-based programs working to expand access to naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication. In 2013, community programs reported training nearly 38,000 laypersons on overdose reversal, distributing over 140,000 naloxone vials, and receiving reports of over 8,000 successful overdose reversals.
“Community-led overdose education and naloxone distribution must be sustained and scaled up rapidly, and we can’t do that without additional federal support,” stated Daniel Raymond. “We know from last year’s Ebola response that in the midst of a grave public health threat, Congress and the Administration can work together to provide emergency funding. We need to harness that leadership and commitment to the very real and present danger of heroin overdose.”
The new CDC heroin figures also call attention to the risk of new hepatitis C and HIV infections from injection. “New hepatitis C infections rose nationally by 150% between 2010 and 2013,” said Daniel Raymond. “States and communities struggling with heroin use should implement syringe exchange programs to prevent disease and support linkage to drug treatment and health care.”
Harm Reduction Coalition supports a comprehensive response to the prescription opioid and heroin crisis, including overdose prevention, expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, ending stigma towards addiction, preventing new infections, and strong public health-driven leadership.