The new heroin epidemic?

I caught a bit of the final Democratic primary debate last night. One question popped that I was not expecting, asking what the nominees would do about the heroin epidemic.

I wasn’t aware we were in the middle of a heroin epidemic and I remember being underwhelmed by the numbers present in the last one, during the grunge-filled 90s. So what are the details? This CNN article says…

In general, drug overdose deaths have been on the rise for the past two decades, but the number of deaths from heroin use is up by 39%.

That means 5,927 people died after using heroin in 2012 and that number jumped to 8,260 deaths in 2013. Those are the latest numbers available.

And to give context…

For perspective: The number of people dying after abusing drugs is higher than the number of people killed in traffic accidents.

Well, waitasec… they mean the total number of people dying from any type of drug (not just heroin) is higher than traffic fatalities? That’s what I will presume though they never in the article actually provide that number.

Of course, if you know me, you know I feel the “let’s compare fatalities from X to traffic fatalities” to be disingenuous as traffic fatalities have gone down substantially in recent decades. (Check out the graph titled “Trends in Automobile Fatalities” on this page.) As I always say, we ought to celebrating that auto fatalities have gotten so low as opposed to using the new lower number to make comparisons.

One final ironic point made in the CNN article. Efforts to prevent people from getting legal opioids may be what driving them to heroin.

Federal, state and local governments have been cracking down on illegal prescription drug sales with some success, according to the Journal study. That may have a connection to the rise in problems with heroin.

Law enforcement has shut down many pill mills. Governments have created rules that tighten prescription practices. Drug manufacturers have been creating more abuse-deterrent versions of their drugs.

All this effort to stop prescription drug abuse has made it much more of a challenge for addicts to get their drug of choice.

That may mean they turn to heroin, a drug that gives users a similar kind of high, but can be cheaper and now may be easier to get, according to the Journal study.

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