US heroin overdoses shifting to young, white, Midwestern

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NEW YORK, N.Y. (WPVI) -- The people who die from heroin-related overdoses in the U.S. now tend to be young, white and live in the Northeast or Midwest, according to a government report.

But efforts to save people from deadly overdoses is being complicated by the skyrocketing price of the antidote.

The numbers are a big shift from from 15 years ago when the death rate was highest among older blacks and the West and Northeast had the biggest heroin problems.

The report didn't explore why heroin deaths are increasing. Other experts have said recent restrictions on prescribing painkillers may be reducing supplies at a time when the heroin supply has been increasing.

The report released Wednesday examines the rising trend in fatalities involving heroin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, based on death certificates from 2013, tallied drug overdose deaths across the U.S. in which heroin was a contributing factor.

More from the report:


The government says heroin deaths have nearly tripled since 2010. There were 8,257 heroin-related deaths in 2013, compared to 5,925 the previous year. In 2010 deaths, deaths numbered about 3,000. Heroin-related deaths increased in both men and women, in all age groups, and in whites, blacks and Hispanics.


A few of the increases were particularly striking, said Dr. Holly Hedegaard of the CDC, one of the authors of the report. In 2000, the highest death rate from heroin overdoses was in blacks ages 45 to 64. But in 2013, whites ages 18 to 44 had the highest rate. Whites in that age group accounted for more than half of the heroin-related overdose deaths that year.

And the region with the largest heroin overdose problems shifted to the Midwest. The West and Northeast had the same highest rate in 2000. The report did not provide state breakdowns.


Overall, there were about 44,000 drug overdose deaths in 2013. More than 16,000 of them involved a type of powerful prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Those deaths were nearly twice as high as the heroin-related deaths in 2013. However, painkiller-related deaths held steady for two years while those involving heroin climbed.

Meantime, the price for the overdose antidote Naloxone, better known as Narcan, has skyrocketed.

The price more than doubled in one year, and officials want to know why.

Baltimore's health commissioner calls the price jump a public health crisis.

Many first responders are now equipped with Naloxone, but the added cost is cutting into tight public sector budgets.

Two members of Congress want the drug's maker, Amphasatar Pharmaceuticals, to provide documents on the total gross revenue from the sales and projected profits.

Rep. Elijah Cummings and Senator Bernie Sanders also want the identity of company officials responsible for setting the price of the drug.

The company has given New York and Ohio special price reductions.