The Changing Demographics of Heroin Overdose

The Changing Demographics of Heroin Overdose


Younger Addicts are Overdosing More Often

There’s been a large shift in the demographics of heroin addicts over the last fifteen years. Coinciding with this demographic shift is another shift – the spike in heroin overdose rates among younger white individuals from the Midwest.

heroin fatalities

Consider that in 2000, way back in the halcyon days of heroin addiction, overdose and death rates were highest among older black men from the Northeast and West coast. Today, overdose and death rates are highest among young, white men and women living in the Midwest.

This new information is based a report from the Center for Disease Control, complied from 2013 information. So, what exactly does their report say? Well, without sugar coating the information, it says there’s still very much a heroin epidemic raging across the United States.


New Overdose Rates

Find information from the CDC’s new report, distilled into a few key bullet points, below:

  • In 2013 there were 8,257 heroin related deaths. This is a sharp increase from 2012 (5,925 overdose deaths) and 2010 (approximately 3,000 overdose deaths).


  • Overdose deaths related to heroin have increased across all sections of the population. Men, women, all age brackets, and all races have seen an increase in heroin overdose.


  • African-Americans between the ages of 45-64, living in the Northeast and West Coast, made up the bulk of heroin overdose deaths in 2000. By 2013, white men and women between the ages of 18-44, living in the Midwest, had overtaken them in heroin overdose deaths.


  • In fact, more than half of all fatal heroin overdoses in 2013 occurred to white individuals in that age bracket. That breaks down to over 4,100 deaths.


  • There were more than 16,000 opioid painkiller related deaths in 2013. That’s about double the number of heroin related deaths.


  • Despite the high number of painkiller fatalities, the overall rate of painkiller overdose remains static. Heroin overdoses, however, continue to rise.

Why are Heroin Deaths Climbing?

The above numbers don’t paint rosy picture. Rather, they show a county in the midst of a storm of opioid abuse. Some of that abuse takes the form of using heroin, while the majority still revolves around painkillers.

But why are heroin overdose rates climbing while painkiller overdose rates remain static? This, my friends, is the million-dollar question. And the answer lies somewhere between stricter regulations on opioid medication and less social stigma associated with heroin.

As individual states increase control over how powerful opioid pills are prescribed, and as the nation as a whole reacts to this painkiller epidemic, it makes sense that people are shifting to heroin. After all, if an addict can’t find the pills they need, but they can find heroin that will produce the same effects, well, they’re going to use heroin.

Here we come to the second part of why more and more people are using, and overdosing on, heroin – decreased social stigma. In days past, heroin addicts were thought of as homeless, mentally ill, depraved, etc. In today’s climate, that isn’t the case at all.

heroin overdose deaths

Rising purity levels mean that heroin users don’t need to inject the drug. They can simply smoke or sniff and achieve the same high. Removing the needle from heroin abuse has gone a long way to making it more acceptable. Of course, the needle is still involved. As dabblers find themselves moving from use to abuse to addiction, they also find themselves moving from sniffing or smoking to shooting up.

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What’s the Heroin Overdose Solution?

Here’s where things get tricky. What’s the solution to the ever-increasing number of heroin overdoses? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. There’s no magic pill that will cure heroin addiction and overdose. There are, however, some very promising options on the horizon.

First, there’s naloxone. The popular “anti-overdose” drug, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is saving thousands of lives each year. Naloxone removes heroin molecules from an individual’s body in minutes. It’s literally a lifesaver.

Several states, notably New Jersey, have increased first-responders access to this life saving chemical. The results have been astounding to say the least! Since mid-2014, over 800 New Jersey residents have been administered Narcan. That’s 800 saved lives!

Going hand-in-hand with increasing access to naloxone is an overall increase in the Federal budget for drug abuse prevention and treatment. In his 2016 budget, Obama has earmarked over $26 billion for various drug programs. While much of this money is being funneled into fighting prescription drug abuse, make no mistake that heroin overdose prevention will see an increase in federal dollars.

Finally, hope for the rising numbers of heroin overdoses comes from a rather traditional channel – twelve-step fellowships. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have been helping individuals break their addictions for decades. Surely they offer a beacon of hope for the shifting demographics of heroin overdose.

Learn more about Narcan and the benefits it offers!

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