Overdose Deaths from Opioids and Heroin Climbing

The most recent data show overdose from prescription opioids increased just 2% while heroin deaths jumped 44% over the previous year.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the most recent data available (2011) show that overdose deaths from both prescription opioids and heroin continued to rise.

Prescription opioid deaths followed a more than decade-long trend and increased approximately 2% to 16,917, heroin deaths jumped by 44% from 3,036 in 2010 to 4,397 in 2011.

The increase in heroin deaths appears to be due in part to users having less access to prescription opioids and switching to heroin. According to the CDC, about 75% of heroin users say they started out by using prescription opioids.

The number of prescription opioid deaths has been rising since 1999.

CDC officials said clinicians need to do a better job of screening for opioid abuse by checking prescription monitoring programs in their states for patients who “doctor shop” and by using urine screens to detect illicit use of the drugs.

Deaths involving benzodiazepines (often concomitantly used with opioids) also continued to rise, occurring in 31% of opioid overdose deaths in 2011, up from 30% in 2010.