WASHINGTON, D.C. ― The National Heroin Threat Assessment (NHTA), released Friday by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), shows heroin use and availability on the rise and causing more overdose deaths than at any time in the last decade.
Although fewer people presently use heroin than other illicit drugs, the heroin user population is growing at a faster rate than any other drug of abuse, almost doubling between 2007 and 2013—from 161,000 to 289,000—according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to the Centers for Disease Control, deaths involving heroin more than tripled between 2007 (2,402) and 2013 (8,260).
“DEA is targeting the cartels that produce and smuggle heroin into the U.S. and organized criminals that distribute this poison,” said DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “We will continue to combat heroin trafficking to protect Americans from this severe and growing threat.”
The NHTA is based, in part, on survey responses from more than 1,100 law enforcement agencies, which were asked to identify the greatest drug threat in their areas. A majority of agencies indicated heroin as the primary drug threat.
Historically, the percentage of agencies reporting heroin as their greatest concern steadily increased from 8 percent in 2007 to 38 percent in 2015. According to National Seizure System data, from 2010 through 2014, heroin seizures in the U.S. rose 81 percent, from 2,763 kilograms to 5,014 kilograms. During that same period, the average size of a heroin seizure more than doubled, from 0.86 kilograms to 1.74 kilograms. The higher demand for heroin is partly driven by an increase in controlled prescription drug (CPD) abuse over the past decade.
Many CPD users became addicted to opioid medications originally prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose.
A recent SAMHSA study found that four out of five recent new heroin users had previously abused prescription pain relievers. The reasons an individual shifts from one opiate to another vary, but today’s heroin is higher in purity, less expensive, and often easier to obtain than illegal CPDs. Higher purity allows heroin to be smoked or snorted, thereby avoiding the stigmas associated with injection. Heroin users today tend to be younger, more affluent, and more ethnically and geographically diverse than ever before.
The NHTA is a document prepared in close collaboration with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and is intended to provide policymakers, law enforcement personnel, and prevention and treatment specialists with strategic drug intelligence to help formulate counterdrug policies, establish law enforcement priorities and allocate resources. The 2015 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary can be viewed online at http://www.dea.gov/divisions/.