The US has about 300,000 more heroin users than it did a decade ago, according to a new government report.
Drug-use experts say the increase in heroin users likely can be explained by a shift from opioid pain killers to heroin, which is cheaper, the Associated Press reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report on Tuesday after its annual survey of some 67,000 Americans that the government uses as a benchmark of US drug use.
In the recent survey, almost three out of every 1,000 Americans said they had used heroin in the last year. Ten years ago, than number was less than two out of every 1,000.
The survey also found a sharp increase in heroin use by whites, while other racial groups held steady from previous numbers. Heroin use by whites doubled in the last 10 years.
Experts say that reductions in prescription painkillers likely is a contributing factor to the spike in heroin use.
Heroin contains essentially the same chemical as that in the prescription painkillers, but costs roughly five times less on the street, CDC Director Tom Frieden told the AP.
“An increasing number of people are primed for heroin use because they were addicted to an opioid painkiller,” Dr. Frieden said. The report showed that people who previously abused painkillers were 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.
Along with the increase in heroin use has come a sharp rise in heroin-related deaths, which have quadrupled in the past decade. Deaths related to painkillers have leveled, but still are more common than heroin-related deaths.
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