A Sad 1st in America: Heroin Overdoses Outpace Gun Homicides

In a report published December 8, 2016, the CDC said that in 2015, heroin deaths spiked by more than 2,000 cases since 2014, resulting in a sad milestone: There were more heroin-related deaths that year than gun homicides. As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1. [1]

Source: The Washington Post

The number of opioid deaths increased by 30,000 from 2014 to 2015 – another first for the U.S. – up from 5,000 in 2014. But for the first time since at least the 1990’s, heroin deaths outnumbered deaths from traditional opioid painkillers, like hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Additionally, deaths involving potent synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75% from 2014 to 2015.

But according to the CDC’s data, deaths may involve more than 1 individual drug category, so the numbers may not be mutually exclusive. For example, many opioid deaths involve multiple types of opioids, or opioids combined with alcohol.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement:

“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen. Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”

Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, also said in a statement:

“The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic continues to devastate communities and families across the country—in large part because too many people still do not get effective substance use disorder treatment. That is why the President has called since February for $1 billion in new funding to expand access to treatment.”

Congress recently passed a spending bill allocating $1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic. That amount includes money for addiction treatment and prevention.

The CDC data was released just a week after the DEA closed its open comment period on kratom, an herb that many credit with helping them safely withdraw from opiates.  [2]

Read: DEA Decides NOT to Ban Kratom … For Now

Opioids in 1996, to the Late 90’s, to Today

Opioid use exploded in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but the opioid epidemic may have started in 1996, the year OxyContin was introduced to the U.S. market. In its first year on the market, OxyContin earned its maker, Purdue Pharma, $45 million. By 2000, that number ballooned to $1.1 billion. Ten years later, OxyContin raked in $3.1 billion for the pharmaceutical company, and accounted for about 30% of the painkiller market. [1] [3]

Source: attn:

OxyContin rose to the top of the opiate heap because Purdue was giving doctors kickbacks for prescribing the pain reliever, and heaping massive bonuses on sales execs who convinced doctors to prescribe OxyContin over other opioids.

Read: “Hillbilly Heroin” OxyContin Approved for Use in Children

This is not the only cause of the opioid crisis, but it may have been the jumping-off point. And as the crisis ballooned, state and federal authorities started issuing tighter restrictions on painkillers, driving opioid addicts to the illicit market to get their hands-on heroin.

Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said:

“Criminalization drives people to the margins and dissuades them from getting help. It drives a wedge between people who need help and the services they need. Because of criminalization and stigma, people hide their addictions from others.” [1]

Sources:

[1] The Washington Post

[2] Gizmodo

[3] The Week

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Anti-Anxiety Drug Overdoses are on the Rise – Leaving Many Questions

When you hear about prescription drug overdoses, you tend to think about opioid painkillers. But you may be surprised to find out that deadly overdoses from anti-anxiety drugs are on the rise, leaving many mental health professionals wondering what is causing the increase.

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows more Americans are overdosing on common benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medications, such as Valium and Xanax. The quantity of prescriptions filled tripled between 1996 and 2013, and the number of overdoses quadrupled during the same time period.

Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who helped lead the study, said:

“Overdoses from benzodiazepines have increased at a much faster rate than prescriptions for the drugs, indicating that people have been taking them in a riskier way over time.”

Each year more than 5% of U.S adults fill a benzodiazepine prescription. These highly addictive drugs which treat anxiety, mood disorders and insomnia killed 23,000 people in 2013.

cdc-us-overdose-deaths-2014_jr-3
Photograph: National Institute on Drug Abuse

When benzodiazepines are abused or combined with other drugs and alcohol, they can depress the respiratory system sometimes fatally, Bachhuber explained.

For the new study Bachhuber’s team looked at large health surveys to find trends in the abuse of benzodiazepines. They wrote:

“The rate of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines increased more than four-fold from 0.58 per 100,000 adults to 3.07 per 100,000 adults. However, this rate appeared to plateau after 2010. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million.”

The researchers also found a similarly large increase in the number of pills each person was prescribed.

Said Bachhuber:

“If we’re going to address the prescription drug crisis, we can’t just focus on opioids. We need to think more broadly about other drugs, like benzodiazepines.”

The study’s authors warn anti-anxiety drugs are being over-prescribed and suggest doctors investigate alternative drugs or treatments, such as talk therapy.

Read: 7 Natural Anti-Anxiety Herbs to Reduce Stress

We reported earlier that public health directors and academics are pressuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put a “black box” warning on benzodiazepines, the agency’s strongest warning, because of the drugs’ addictiveness and the danger posed by combining these drugs with other medications.

Sources:

NBC News

The New York Times

Newsmax

National Institute on Drug Abuse


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