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Opioid, Heroin Abuse Is an "Epidemic," Deaths Up 200% Since 2000, CDC Says

Mary K. Caffrey
The statistics are alarming: 61% of all drug overdose deaths in 2014 are from opioid drugs or heroin, which have been called "chemical cousins."
Opioid and heroin abuse is an “epidemic” in the United States, and has fueled a 200% rise in overdose deaths from these chemically related drugs since 2000, the CDC reported today.

In its Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, the CDC said a 137% spike in overdose deaths since 2000 has been driven almost entirely by the tragedy of opioid/heroin addiction. Opioid deaths rose steadily through the 1990s and involved commonly prescribed pain medications. These deaths declined in 2012 and held steady in 2013, which in the moment was considered progress amid a crackdown to prevent opioid misuse.

But those already addicted were switching over to heroin, which has been called its “chemical cousin,” and the numbers of heroin deaths since 2010 have been staggering. In 2000, opioid and heroin substances, including methadone, accounted for 3 deaths per 100,000 of the population. By 2014, the most recent year available, the number was 9 deaths per 100,000 population.

For a government report, the language in this week’s MMWR is breathtaking. “More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses. In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes.”

The numbers are alarming, and getting worse:

“During 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. Since 2000, the age-adjusted drug overdose death rate has more than doubled, from 6.2 per 100,000 persons in 2000 to 14.7 per 100,000 in 2014.” According to the report, 61% of these deaths involve some type of opioid, including heroin.

No part of the country is untouched. In 2014, the 5 states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were West Virginia (35.5 deaths per 100,000), New Mexico (27.3), New Hampshire (26.2), Kentucky (24.7) and Ohio (24.6).  States with statistically significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that more than half of Americans (56%) had a connection to someone who had struggled with opioid abuse or had died of an overdose. Exactly half the respondents felt this should be a priority for elected officials.


Rudd RA, Aleshire N, Zibbell JE, et al. Increases in drug and opioid overdose deaths — United States, 20002014. MMWR. 2015;64(early release):1-5.

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