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In The News: Heroin use is on the rise — especially in the Midwest

Photo courtesy Flickr user Cristian C

The use of Heroin in the United States has increased significantly over the past decade. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the increase spans between all demographics, including age, gender and income.

According to the report, as referenced in MinnPost, the total number of heroin users in 2013 was roughly half a million, an increase of 150 percent when compared with statistics from 2007. In addition, between the years of 2011 and 2013, 2.6 persons per 1,000 U.S. residents aged 12 and older have used heroin. This is an increase of 63 percent from 2002 to 2004.

Groups with historically lower rates such as women, high income earners and those with private insurance have seen the greatest increase in use. These rates have skyrocketed particularly in the Midwest. According to the CDC, the Midwest has experienced an 11-fold jump in heroin-related overdose deaths between 2000 and 2013

“We’ve overtaken the Northeast,” said Dave Ferguson, Ph.D., a medicinal chemist and professor of graduate studies at the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy, in a phone interview with MinnPost.

In direct correlation with the rise in heroin use has come a rise in overdose related deaths. More than 8,200 people died in 2013, twice the number in 2011. Ferguson says the rise in the nation, and specifically the Midwest, is intertwined with recent efforts to tighten access to prescription opioid painkillers.

“Once you start putting in safeguards, there’s no doubt that the street drug, heroin, is going to start replacing it,” said Ferguson.

According to Ferguson, the problem with this is that users are naïve. When you buy heroin off the street, the potency and contents are unknown.

“Most heroin users today have no institutional memory of the catastrophic consequences of abusing that drug,” said Ferguson. “So you’re going to see people trying and experimenting with it and not really understanding the devastation that it can cause. It’s really a perfect storm.”

The report recommends states expand access and training for the administration of naloxone (Narcan), a drug that can be used to revive a person who has overdosed on an opiate such as heroin.

In 2014, Minnesota passed a law allowing police and firefighters to administer naloxone to an overdose patient. In addition, the law grants prosecution immunity to anyone who seeks medical assistance for someone who has overdosed as well as the person receiving the naloxone.

In 2014, Hennepin County experienced a decline in opiate- related drug overdose deaths. Statistics show this is due to the fact that naloxone use has become more widespread.