Why Have Heroin Overdoses Quadrupled?

woman heroin overdose

Newly released information from the National Center for Health Statistics not only shows that U.S. heroin overdoses have more than quadrupled in just five years, but that the epidemic is affecting people of all ages.

There were 3,036 fatal heroin overdoses in 2010, but that number has since soared to 12,989 in 2015, accounting for nearly 25% of fatal drug overdoses. A deadly combination of decreasing dope prices and skyrocketing potency could be behind the spike in fatalities.

“Each year I think it’s hard to imagine it getting much worse and yet last year we had the highest number of deaths on record,” said Dr. Caleb Alexander, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, to ABC News.

Rich Hamburg, of the non-profit Trust for America’s Health, traced the rising heroin fatalities to the ongoing prescription painkiller abuse problem. “You are 40 times more likely to use heroin if you started with opioid painkillers,” he told Reuters. “Heroin is part of America’s larger drug abuse problem.”

The overdose rate increased slightly more for men than it did for women, but one of the most noticeable demographic shifts was the increase in drug deaths in middle age and older adults. Although overdose rates increased across all age groups between 1999 and 2015, the largest uptick was in the 55 to 64 age group, where the death rate nearly quintupled over 16 years. Overall, death rates for adults between 25 and 64 were more than twice that of 15- to 24-year-olds.

“Sometimes there’s this perception that this is a problem of only teenagers or young adults and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Alexander. “Middle aged and elderly adults are also being affected by the epidemic.”