According to the report, Heroin availability continued to increase in 2012, most likely due to an increase in Mexican heroin production and Mexican traffickers expanding into the Eastern and Midwest U.S. markets traditionally supplied with white heroin. The amount of heroin seized at the Southwest Border increased significantly between 2008 and 2012 and this, along with other indicators, points to increased smuggling of both Mexican-produced heroin and South American-produced heroin through Mexico.
Heroin-related overdoses and overdose deaths are increasing in certain areas, possibly due to a number of factors, such as high heroin purity, increasing numbers of heroin abusers initiating use at a younger age, and inexperienced abusers switching from prescription opioids to heroin.
Possible reasons for these increases in overdose deaths include:
Availability of high-purity heroin
Law enforcement officials in each of the affected areas reported an increase of high-purity heroin available at the street level.
People are switching from abusing prescription drugs to abusing heroin.
Law enforcement and treatment officials throughout the country report that many heroin abusers began using the drug after having first abused prescription opioids. These abusers turned to heroin because it was cheaper and/ or more easily obtained than prescription drugs and because heroin provides a high similar to that of prescription opioids. According to treatment providers, many opioid addicts will use whichever drug is cheaper and/or available to them at the time. Several treatment providers report the majority of opioid addicts will eventually end up abusing heroin and will not switch back to another drug because heroin is highly addictive, relatively inexpensive, and more readily available. Those abusers who have recently switched to heroin are at higher risk for accidental overdose. Unlike with prescription drugs, heroin purity and dosage amounts vary, and heroin is often cut with other substances, all of which could cause inexperienced abusers to accidentally overdose.
More people are using heroin, and at a younger age.
It is possible that increasing overdoses are the result of more people using heroin and using it at a younger age. According to national-level survey data, the number of new heroin users has recently been increasing. NSDUH reports the number of new heroin users increased from 142,000 in 2010 to 178,000 in 2011. Both numbers are a sizeable increase from the average annual estimates of 2002 to 2008 (ranging from 91,000 to 118,000).
Moreover, these new heroin users are considerably younger. In 2011, the average age at first use among heroin abusers aged 12 to 49 was 22.1 years and in 2010 it was 21.4 years, significantly lower than the 2009 estimate of 25.5 years.
Controlled Prescription Drugs
Prescription drug abuse continues to be the nation’s fastest growing drug problem. The abuse of controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) poses a significant drug threat to the United States and places a considerable burden on law enforcement and public health resources. Nationally, 28.1 percent of law enforcement agencies responding to the 2013 National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) reported CPDs as the greatest drug threat, up from 9.8 percent in 2009. Law enforcement agencies in the Florida/Caribbean, New England, New York/ New Jersey, and Southeast Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) regions all report that CPDs posed the greatest drug threat at a higher percentage than the national rate.
Demand and treatment data indicate that abuse of CPDs, particularly painkillers, is a rapidly growing threat. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), pain relievers are the most common type of CPD taken illicitly and are the CPDs most commonly involved in overdose incidents. Further, CPD-related treatment admissions rose 68 percent between 2007 and 2010 and prescription opiate/opioid-related emergency department visits rose 91.4 percent between 2006 and 2010.
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration – November 2013