CDC: Heroin Death Rates Up 102 Percent for Whites; Opioids Down 8 Percent

By Melanie Arter | October 9, 2014 | 3:28 PM EDT


FILE - In this Monday, May 6, 2013 file photo, a drug addict prepares a needle to inject himself with heroin in front of a church in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. It's not a rare scene on Skid Row to spot addicts using drugs in the open, even when police patrol the area. Jim Hall, an epidemiologist who studies substance abuse at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. says, the striking thing about heroin’s most recent incarnation in the early 21st Century, is that a drug that was once largely confined to major cities is spreading into suburban and rural towns across America, where it is used predominantly by young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. "We haven’t really seen something this rapid since probably the spread of cocaine and crack in the mid-1980s," Hall said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

( – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released last week, “non-Hispanic whites” had the highest death rates for both heroin and prescription opioid pain reliever (OPR) with a more than 100 percent increase in the death rate from heroin.

The heroin death rate for whites was 2.4 per 100,000 population in 2012, compared to 1.8 per 100,000 population in 2011 – a 101.9 percent increase, according to the CDC.

The overall number of heroin deaths in 2012 was 3,636, compared to 2,679 in 2011. That’s 956 more heroin deaths than the year before. Meanwhile, 9,869 OPR deaths were reported in 2012, compared to 10,393 in 2011. That’s 524 fewer heroin deaths than the year before.

The heroin death rate for non-Hispanic whites and Hispanic whites doubled and nearly doubled in blacks. The Northeast and South had larger heroin overdoses than the Midwest and West. OPR death rates declined only in the South, the CDC found.

In May, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said the number of heroin addicts has increased 75 percent in the last four years, and the amount of pure heroin entering the U.S. has doubled.

The CDC reported a 45 percent increase in heroin deaths from 2010 to 2011, the largest annual percentage increase since 1999.

In Kentucky, heroin deaths increased by 279 percent from 2010 to 2012, while Ohio experienced a 300 percent increase from 2007 to 2012, with men aged 25-34 years at highest risk for fatal heroin overdoses.

The OPR death rate for whites in 2012 was 7.0 per 100,000 population, compared to 7.5 per 100,000 population in 2011 – an eight percent decrease.

In comparison, whites had a death rate of 1.1 per 100,000 population from heroin in 2008 and 6.9 per 100,000 population from OPR.

Examples of prescription opoid drugs include: hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, methadone, and morphine.

“Decreases in OPR death rates were not associated with increases in heroin death rates,” the CDC said. “The findings indicate a need for intensified prevention efforts aimed at reducing overdose deaths from all types of opioids while recognizing the demographic differences between the heroin and OPR-using populations.”

“Efforts to prevent expansion of the number of OPR users who might use heroin when it is available should continue,” it added.

The age group with the highest heroin overdose death rate was aged 25-34 years, while the age group with the highest OPR overdose death rate was aged 45-54 years.

The heroin death rate for males in 2012 was almost four times that of females, while the death rate for OPR was 1.4 times that of females.

The number of overall overdose deaths in 2012 was 23,732, down slightly from 2011, when there were 23,792 people who died from drug overdose.

OPR overdose mortality dropped significantly among males, people under 45, people in the South, and non-Hispanic whites.