More Americans Die From Drug Overdose Than From Car Accidents: Heroin Use Increases For Third Year

It’s so easy to write them off. They had a bad childhood, their parents used drugs, they would rather live this life than be sober and get a job.

Except that’s not the reality. For the third year in a row, heroin deaths increased in the United States, and everyone from the heroin addict’s mother to the government wants to know why.

What does your average user look like? They begin the drug at 23 years old. They are from an affluent suburb. They have a job, some even professional careers, until the disease gets severe. They might have children, or relationships…they might be your neighbor. Maybe they are you.

In general, drug overdose deaths have been on the rise for the past two decades, but the number of deaths from heroin use is up by 39 percent. That means 5,927 people died after using heroin in 2012, and that number increased to 8,260 deaths in 2013. Those are the latest numbers available; all indications show that the 2014 data will be even worse.

How do people become addicted? Usually because they are either prescribed a narcotic painkiller for legitimate pain or take them recreationally, and they become hooked. These types of narcotic opioids may include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. The FDA has cracked down on physicians and the regulatory prescription laws of these drugs. That means fewer people are able to get their physician to continue to write prescriptions for them after they are addicted. Whether their pain is legitimate or not, their addiction to narcotics is very legitimate, and to cure the agony of withdrawal, addicts turn to street drugs like heroin.

How do people normally die from heroin? The most common is overdose, in which so much of the drug is taken (swallowed, snorted, injected) that it literally shuts off the breathing center in the brain. Another cause is by infection – intravenous drug users may resort to dirty needles and die from blood infection, a medical term called sepsis. A third cause is trauma – people involved with illegal drugs are more likely to die from traumatic injuries such as accidents and acts of violence.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a drug treatment provider, told Forbes that the Obama administration needs to do more for the opioid addiction epidemic. Kolodny said the designated $12 million in new funding to help the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) with opioid addiction treatment is “like trying to put out a raging fire with a squirt gun.”

“The response from President Obama to this crisis is shameful. I wouldn’t mind so much that he doesn’t speak about the problem if his agencies were working together to control the problem and if he was allocating the appropriate resources. But that’s not happening.”