More Americans died from heroin overdoses last year than gun violence, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week.
In 2015, the CDC reported that 12,989 people died of heroin overdoses compared with 12,979 people who were killed by gun violence. Just 10 years ago, gun violence was responsible for about 10,000 more deaths than heroin, the CDC reported.
The number represents a dramatic spike in overdose deaths–23 percent increase in just one year. In 2014, the CDC reported that 10,574 Americans died from heroin overdoses.
Overall opiate-based drugs, including heroin, were responsible for 33,092 deaths. In recent years, authorities have been cracking down on the abuse of opiate-based prescription painkillers. People who once abused these prescription medications are now turning to heroin, which is often cheaper and easier to obtain.
Fentanyl behind the spike in heroin overdoses
The CDC said the increase in death has been driven by the use of synthetic opiates like fentanyl. Increasingly, street heroin is being mixed with more potent substances, such as fentanyl and carfentanil–a powerful animal tranquilizer. Users overdose because they are unaware of how potent their dose is.
In late August, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that 174 people had overdosed from heroin in the Ohio city in just six days–many the result of carfentanil. It was one of many cases nationwide, where large amounts of people overdosed over a short period of time.
People also abuse fentanyl on its own because of its potency.
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
Public health officials have urged local police to carry the lifesaving drug, naloxone, to help revive heroin users who have overdosed and police departments across the country have responded.
Naloxone–also known as Narcan–allows people who have overdosed on heroin to breathe again, saving their lives. But despite police and other first responders being armed with naloxone, the deaths continue to rise.
Congress is also getting involved, recently passing a bill to provide $1 billion to combat the opioid epidemic. The federal funding includes more money for drug treatment programs. After alcohol, opiate-based drugs account for the largest percentage of admissions to drug rehabs, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Are You or a Loved One Addicted to Heroin? Get Help Now
Many people addicted to heroin know they need treatment, but do not know how to get it. Family members also struggle with how to get help for a loved one who is in active addiction. Treatment at a detox facility to handle the painful withdrawal symptoms followed by inpatient treatment at a drug rehab is the best way to ensure long-term recovery from heroin addiction.
Drug Treatment Center Finder can help you or a loved one safely end an addiction to heroin. We can help you find a drug treatment center in your area. If you have questions about withdrawal detox and treatment, call our 24-hour helpline at (855) 619-8070, and one of our call agents will walk you through the addiction treatment process.
People addicted to heroin should avoid abruptly stopping the use of the drug without proper medical help. Stopping all at once or going cold turkey can lead to painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.