Heroin deaths have surged over the last five years, more than tripling between 2010 and 2014, according to an alarming report this week on America’s drug epidemic.
Fatalities involving heroin jumped from 3,036 in 2010 to 10,574 in 2014, at a rate faster than other illegal drugs, says the report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Fatalities due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a fast-acting narcotic often disguised as prescription pills, dramatically increased by 79 percent in only one year, from 2013 to 2014. The drugs are allegedly responsible for the deaths of 19 people in Florida and California in the first quarter of this year.
“We tend to overuse words such as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘horrific,’ but the death and destruction connected to heroin and opioids is indeed unprecedented and horrific,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg, in a statement.
“The problem is enormous and growing, and all of our citizens need to wake up to these facts,” he added.
The Northeast and Midwest have been hardest hit by the heroin epidemic, the report says. Overdose deaths are more common in suburban areas and outlying counties surrounding cities.
Law enforcement agencies reported seizing larger than usual quantities of heroin in cities across the country. There was an 80 percent increase in heroin seizures over the past five years, from 3,733 kilograms (about 8,230 pounds) in 2011 to 6,722 kilograms (about 14,819 pounds) in 2015, according to the National Seizure System.
The availability of heroin is also increasing nationwide. Today’s heroin is cheaper, higher in purity, and in many cases easier to obtain than illegal controlled prescription drugs (CPDs).
North America Meeting
Meanwhile President Barack Obama spoke about the opioid epidemic during the North American Leaders’ Summit, where he met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico on June 29.
“We’re particularly focused right now on the epidemic of opioid abuse, including heroin, that is taking so many lives and devastating so many families,” said Obama.
“Our teams will meet this fall to make sure that we’re coordinating our efforts, including more access to treatment. … We will continue to be relentless against the criminals and narco-traffickers that are inflicting so much violence on communities.”
“We’re going to do more to ensure the safety and health of our citizens from the danger of illicit drugs” —@POTUS with Canada and Mexico
— White House Live (@WHLive) June 29, 2016
The DEA report says Mexican drug trafficking organizations have moved their illicit operations into the suburbs and to rural areas to conceal their activities, and are expanding their operations to get a bigger piece of the eastern U.S. heroin markets.
Last week, the United Nations said the United States had reached a record number of fatal drug overdoses in 2014.
Almost half a million people in the United States are estimated to have died from drug overdoses since 2004, according to the U.N.’s World Drug Report 2016.
— UNODC (@UNODC) June 23, 2016
The report says 61 percent of those deaths were associated with prescription opioids and heroin.
The number of fatalities related to heroin use has increased five-fold since 2000.
“Heroin continues to be the drug that kills the most people and this resurgence must be addressed urgently,” said Yury Fedotov of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.