The death rate from heroin overdoses in the United States nearly tripled between 2010 and 2013, and younger white males replaced middle-aged and older black men as the most common victims of the epidemic, the National Center for Health Statistics reported Wednesday.
The death rate grew from 1 for every 100,000 people in 2010 to 2.7 for every 100,000 in 2013, after rising much more slowly over the previous 10 years, the new report shows. Overall, there were 43,982 drug overdose deaths in 2013, making them the top injury-related killer in the country; of those 16,235 involved opioids and 8,257 were caused by heroin.
The sharp increase in heroin deaths coincided with curbs on abuse of opioid analgesics established about the same time. Authorities have tried to crack down on pill mills and required reformulation of the prescription medications to make them more difficult to use recreationally. The cheaper price of heroin also increased its popularity.
The death rate from opioids such as OxyContin, Demerol and Vicodin declined slightly, from 5.4 to 5.1 per 100,000 people between 2010 and 2013.
The sobering numbers are no surprise to anyone who has been following news reports of heroin's popularity and the drug's toll. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose 13 months ago, putting a spotlight on the issue.
White males between the ages of 18 and 44 became by far the biggest demographic group involved in heroin overdose deaths over the 13 years examined by the study. Their rate of 7 per 100,000 surpassed the 5 per 100,000 rate for black men, who in 2000 were the most frequent victims of the drug. The death rate for men was nearly four times as high as it was for women.
The Midwest also passed the Northeast and the West as the region with the highest death rate.