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Increase in heroin overdose deaths in 2012

CDC research published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that deaths associated with heroin overdoses increased significantly in 2012. In fact, death rates from heroin overdose doubled from 2010 to 2012. During this period, no state in the study had a reduction in the heroin death rate. Interestingly, of the 28 states, five had increases in prescription opioid death rates, seven states showed decreases and 16 states showed no statistical change.

How We See It

The bottom line – heroin abuse is increasing drastically while prescription opioid abuse is largely falling.

This new research gives us a clear picture of the effects of prescription drug abuse and how synthetic opioids can lead to heroin abuse. Indeed, it is estimate that ¾ of all heroin users abused prescription opioids before turning to heroin. Because prescription opioids target the same receptors in the brain as does heroin, it is not surprising that there would be a connection.

Further, with law enforcement ramping up efforts to stamp out prescription drug abuse, heroin has, in many cases, become a cheaper and more readily available alternative to prescription drugs.

As alarming as these statistics may be, there may be a silver lining. Since many heroin users start there opiate addiction with prescription drugs, and the abuse of opioid prescription drugs may be dropping, we could see a commensurate drop in heroin use in the future. Controlling prescription opioid abuse should still be a priority, as many children and young adults begin their addictive behavior with these drugs. Further, the number of people that died from prescription opioid abuse remains double the number of those that died from heroin overdose as of 2012.


Death certificates in 28 US states were investigated by the CDC for this research. The period in question ranged from 2010-2012 and covered approximately 56% of the population of United States. Data from 18 of the 28 states was considered reliable in the case of heroin overdose rates.