A recent report indicates that emergency room visits due to heroin overdoses have increased in the state of Kentucky. The report also shows that visits to hospitals because of prescription painkiller overdoses has decreased, according to United Press International.
The study, released by Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, claims heroin-related deaths jumped to 129 in 2012 from 42 deaths in 2011 — a 207 percent increase. Emergency room visits due to heroin use increased 197 percent in the same time period.
The news from Kentucky is another troubling statistic regarding heroin use in the United States. Many officials believe use of the dangerous drug is on the rise across the country.
High-profile cases such as the recent suspected overdose of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman and last year’s heroin-related death of “Glee” star Cory Monteith are signals of an alarming trend, officials say.
“Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death really has to serve as a wake-up call to people,” Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership at Drugfree.org, told The Washington Times. “His death isn’t an anomaly. He’s only representative of the larger trend we’ve been seeing.”
CNN recently reported that about 4.6 million people — about 1.8 percent of the teenage and adult population — reported using heroin at some point in their lives. These high numbers, it is suspected, come as the result of a nationwide effort to crack down on the abuse of prescription painkillers.
That crackdown has resulted in the street cost of potent painkillers, such as OxyContin, to reach numbers as high as $100 per pill. In comparison, heroin may cost less than $60 for multiple doses, according to the Times story.
While it may be good news that the availability of painkillers is now limited on the street, the rise in heroin deaths is seen as a largely unintended consequence. One problem with people's making the switch from prescription drug abuse to heroin is that heroin is an unknown quantity.
"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," the Drug Enforcement Agency said in its drug threat assessment report for 2013.
That could be the reason behind the troubling numbers coming out of Kentucky.