NEW YORK – The over-prescribing of painkillers is fueling nearly 17,000 annual deaths from overdoses in the United States as well as a rise in heroin use, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.
The CDC reviewed 2010-2012 mortality data from 28 states to measure rising fatal heroin overdose rates and determine how the increases were tied to prescription painkillers.
The study found that the death rate from heroin overdoses doubled during that two-year span from 1 to 2.1 deaths per 100,000 people, while deaths from prescription opioid drugs overdoses declined from 6 to 5.6 deaths per 100,000.
Despite the slight drop in prescription painkiller-related deaths, the Atlanta-based CDC said years of over-prescription of painkillers has led to the recent surge in heroin deaths.
In a sample of heroin users in treatment programs, 75 percent who started using heroin after 2000 said they first abused prescription opioids. They said heroin was easier to get, cheaper and more potent than prescription drugs.
The study also showed there has been a 74 percent increase in heroin use between 2009 and 2012, and that prescription painkiller overdose mortality declined among males, people under age 45, residents of Southern states and non-Hispanic whites.