The Chronicles welcomes guest blogger Jazzmin Lewis, a summer associate in Q&B’s Indianapolis office. Jazzmin is entering her final year at Indiana University-Maurer School of Law.

Heroin Use and Abuse of Other Substances
Annual average percentage of past-year heroin users with past-year selected substance abuse or dependence (Source:CDC)

Last week the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report regarding the recent increase in heroin use in the United States. The report shows that the annual rate of heroin use rose from 1.6 per 1,000 people in 2002-2004 to 2.6 per 1,000 people in 2011-2013, causing increased rates of heroin-related deaths. This increase has occurred simultaneously with an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse. In fact, the study shows that abuse or dependence on opioid pain relievers is the strongest risk factor for heroin abuse and those who abuse prescription pain relievers are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin. The percentage of heroin users with opioid abuse or dependence more than doubled from 20.7% in 2002-2004 to 45.2% in 2011-2013. With the increased availability and the decreased price of heroin in the United States, the abuse of prescription opioids appears to be a gateway to heroin for individuals.  In years past, abuse of or dependence on alcohol and cocaine were more prevalent among heroin users than the abuse of or dependence on prescription opiates.  The CDC study shows that now abuse of or dependence on prescriptions drugs is more prevalent among heroin users than is the abuse of alcohol or cocaine.

Heroin and prescription drug abuse has been a problem in the United States for many years, and this study shows that it is only getting worse. So how do we fix this growing problem? The CDC recommends interventions such as prescription drug monitoring programs to reduce inappropriate prescribing of opioids and enable the early identification of persons demonstrating problematic use. The CDC seems to agree with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). A previous post on international perspectives described the solution to reducing opioid abuse set fourth by the UNODC and WHO. In order to combat this issue, these two organizations suggest decreasing the inappropriate prescribing of opioids and inappropriate sale by pharmacies without a prescription. United States Senator Jon Tester is another advocate for reducing inappropriate prescribing of opioids. He recently proposed legislation that will provide safer and more effective pain management services for Montana veterans by requiring strict opioid prescription guidelines. The legislation has the overall goal of treating veterans while also helping eliminate prescription drug abuse.

Public health agencies have concluded that reducing inappropriate prescribing is a key part of solving prescription drug abuse. And after this disturbing report linking prescription opioid abuse to heroin use, the call for stricter regulations regarding opioid prescribing is like to grow louder. Stay tuned to the DEAChronicles for updates on new legislative and regulatory proposals to more tightly regulate the prescribing of prescription opiates.

By Jazzmin Lewis

Jazzmin Lewis