This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that heroin-related deaths spiked 39 percent between 2012 and 2013. According to the CDC, 8,257 people died of heroin-related deaths in 2013, compared with 5,925 deaths in 2012. The number of overdose deaths overall increased from 41,340 to 43,982.
Overall, as authorities shut down pill mills and the illegal use of prescription painkillers, more and more people have turned to heroin as a cheaper and more potent substitute. Broward County, specifically, has seen heroin use on the rise in recent years. And while the numbers aren't necessarily big, the alarming part is that it seems to be trending the wrong way.
"We're definitely seeing a heroin epidemic and opiate epidemic," Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University, tells New Times. "It's not that heroin is widespread as much as it's on the rise."
In response to the CDC findings, Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement saying, "These troubling statistics illustrate a grim reality: that drug, and particularly opioid, abuse represents a growing public health crisis."
According to Hall, heroin, particularly from Mexico, has been increasing in availability as access to prescription pain killers has dissipated. The overall factor for the increase is that people are turning to heroin as a substitute for pain meds.
"They're all based on the opium plant," Hall says. "They are quite addictive when not used medically appropriate."
According to Hall's data, heroin-related deaths in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have been steadily increasing since 2011. Heroin-related deaths have increased from three to nine in 2012 and up to 11 in 2013 in Broward alone. The rise in Miami-Dade is even greater. The statewide increase has gone from 62 to 117 in 2012 and up to 199 deaths in 2013.
Moreover, if we were to add morphine deaths to the heroin-related deaths, statewide would total 776. In Broward in 2013, there were 84 deaths that were either heroin/and or morphine-related.
Hall puts heroin and morphine under the same scrutiny since, once heroin is injected, it rapidly metabolizes into morphine in the body and may often be counted as a morphine rather than a heroin death.
We've also seen heroin crime lab cases in 2013 total 925 in Broward and Miami-Dade, up 33 percent from the previous year. Treatment admissions for heroin and/or prescription opioids went from 8 percent to 35 percent throughout Southeast Florida as well.
Nationally, the trend is also going up. And according to a study by the American Medical Association, a typical heroin addict is more likely to live in the affluent suburbs and was probably led to heroin via painkillers prescribed by his or her doctor, as Hall has concluded.