In 2015, more people in the United States died from heroin-related deaths than from violent gunshot wounds, according to an article by the Washington Post‘s Christopher Ingraham based off of new data from the Centers for Disease Controls (CDC).
“As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1,” Ingraham notes. That has drastically changed now.
The spike in heroin-related deaths comes amid a surge in opioid deaths in general. Opioids caused more than 30,000 deaths in the United States for the first time in recent history, according to the CDC data.
“That marks an increase of nearly 5,000 deaths from 2014,” Ingraham writes. “Deaths involving powerful synthetic opiates, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015.”
Heroin caused an increase of over 2,000 more deaths when compared to the previous year.
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) December 8, 2016
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement quoted by Ingraham. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
In other troubling news from the CDC data, the increase in opioid-related deaths corresponds to a general increase in mortality rates in the U.S. This increase resulted in “the first decline in American life expectancy since 1993,” according to Ingraham.
What’s being dubbed the “heroin epidemic” has struck several communities across the United States.
The Miami Herald reported on Wednesday that “opioid addicts are overdosing in staggering numbers across Miami-Dade County,” particularly in a heroin “hot zone” in the community of Overtown.
“Since 2015, at least 31 people have fatally overdosed in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood with heroin or fentanyl — often both — in their blood,” says the Herald report. “That makes it far and away the deadliest zip code for opioid deaths in Miami-Dade County. The city of Miami itself accounted for nearly a whopping 43 percent of all 236 county overdoses recorded since 2015.”
There are still 140 deaths in the Miami area from 2016 that are suspected of being caused by opioid overdoses, but final toxicology reports have not yet come in for those deaths.
“The problem is bad, and it’s getting worse,” Miami Fire-Rescue Chief Maurice Kemp said at a press conference in September, according to the Herald.
It’s not just major cities that are feeling the effects of the epidemic. An August ABC News story by Li Fellows examines how small towns across America are also suffering from a rash of heroin addiction and overdoses.
The ABC story highlights the heroin problem in Westminster, Maryland, a “predominately white, middle-class town of nearly 17,000 people…in the heart of Carroll County,” outside of Baltimore. Suburban youth there began experimenting with heroin in the 1990s out of “boredom.”
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) December 8, 2016
Westminster is more the rule than the exception.
“What started in Westminster has spread to nearly every small town in Carroll County, destroying lives, families and futures regardless of social status, race, or geography,” Fellows writes. “So far, there have been more than 20 overdose deaths and hundreds of heroin overdoses of young people in all of Carroll County.”
But it’s not just Carroll County or Baltimore, of course.
“Across the country, there are other Westminster stories waiting to be told,” Fellows continues. “Bored teens in the middle-class suburbs of cities like Chicago, Detroit, Orlando, Richmond, Newark and New York, are also bringing back heroin to their hometowns.”
In hopes of beginning to address the crisis, Congress recently passed the $6.3 billion 21st Century Cures Act, which allocates $1 billion for “opioid addiction prevention and treatment programs,” The Fix reports.
Advocates for addiction rehabilitation and prevention welcomed the bill, but many argue that decriminalization should also be part of the plan.
“Criminalization drives people to the margins and dissuades them from getting help,” Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Washington Post. “It drives a wedge between people who need help and the services they need. Because of criminalization and stigma, people hide their addictions from others.”
With heroin deaths skyrocketing in what can truly be called an epidemic, a more complex and multi-faceted approach definitely seems appropriate.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]