Drug use, deaths on rise

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By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Drug overdoses cause more deaths each year than car crashes and guns.

That was one of several sobering details in the recently released 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. The summary was produced by the Drug Enforcement Administration and written by acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg.

“The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs pose a monumental danger to our citizens and a significant challenge for our law enforcement agencies and health care systems,” Rosenberg wrote in part. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 46,471 of our citizens died of a drug overdose in 2013, the most recent year for which this information is available. Drug overdose deaths have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States, surpassing the number of deaths by motor vehicles and by firearms every year since 2008. Overdose deaths, particularly from prescription drugs and heroin, have reached epidemic levels.”

Rosenberg added that the most significant drug trafficking organizations in this country are the “dangerous and highly sophisticated Mexican transnational criminal organizations” that continue to be the principal suppliers of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

“Domestically, affiliated and violent gangs are increasingly a threat to the safety and security of our communities,” Rosenberg wrote. “They profit primarily by putting drugs on the street and have become crucial to the Mexican cartels.”

Those conclusions match what investigators with the Keizer Police Department have found, as referenced in previous stories of the ongoing Chasing Dark series in the Keizertimes.

According to the report, more than 120 people die each day in the United States from a drug overdose.

Many of the Chasing Dark stories have focused on heroin use locally. The DEA report supports that by showing the increased heroin use in recent years.

For example, one chart shows the greatest drug threats and lists cocaine, meth, marijuana, heroin and controlled prescription drugs (CPDs). In 2007 heroin was fourth on the list, with about 8 percent of respondents reporting it to be the biggest threat. By 2009 heroin was up to third with about 13 percent. That number jumped to 25 percent in 2013 and 29 percent in 2014. In 2015, heroin surpassed meth as the biggest threat, at 38 percent.

“The threat posed by heroin in the United States is serious and has increased since 2007,” the report states. “Heroin is available in larger quantities, used by a larger number of people, and is causing an increasing number of overdose deaths. Increased demand for, and use of, heroin is being driven by both increasing availability of heroin in the U.S. market and by some opioid CPD abusers using heroin. CPD abusers who begin using heroin do so chiefly because of price differences, but also because of availability, and the reformulation of OxyContin, a commonly abused prescription opioid.

“Heroin overdose deaths are increasing in many cities and counties across the United States, particularly in the Northeast, as well as areas of the Midwest,” the report adds, listing possible reasons for the increased overdose death of heroin users as an overall increase in heroin users, high purity batches of heroin, more new users who are young and inexperienced with the drug and the use of highly toxic heroin adulterants such as fentanyl.

“Further, heroin users who have stopped using heroin for a period of time (due to treatment programs, incarceration, etc.) and subsequently return to using heroin are particularly susceptible to overdose, because their tolerance for the drug has decreased,” the report states.

According to the survey, 53 percent of respondents this year said heroin availability was high or moderate in their area, with 65 percent saying heroin availability was increasing and 64 percent saying heroin demand was increasing.

Of the DEA’s 21 field divisions, 10 reported heroin availability was high in the first half of 2014.

According to National Seizure System data, heroin seizures in the U.S. increased 81 percent over a five-year period, from 2,763 kilograms in 2010 to 5,014 kilograms in 2014.

The average size of a heroin seizure more than doubled during that time period, from .86 kilograms in 2010 to 1.74 kilograms in 2014.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows an 80 percent increase in heroin users from 2007 to 2012, increasing from 161,000 users in 2007 to 335,000 in 2012.

In addition, the survey found a 26 percent increase in users who reported lifetime heroin usage.

Between 2007 and 2013, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths in the U.S. increased from 2,402 in 2007 to 8,257 in 2013. More alarming, there were approximately 3,000 such deaths in 2010, meaning a significant uptick in just three years.

Worse yet, it’s believed the number of heroin deaths are underreported.

“Heroin deaths are often undercounted because of variations in state reporting procedures, and because heroin metabolizes into morphine very quickly in the body, making it difficult to determine the presence of heroin,” the report states.

Relief isn’t expected anytime soon.

“Heroin use and overdose deaths are likely to continue to increase in the near term,” according to the report. “Mexican traffickers are making a concerted effort to increase heroin availability in the U.S. market. The drug’s increased availability and relatively low cost make it attractive to the large number of opioid abusers (both prescription opioid and heroin) in the United States.”

The full report can be found online at http://www.dea.gov/docs/2015%20NDTA%20Report.pdf.

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