Since 1970, heroin overdose deaths have been on the steady rise. Heroin is the number 1 overdose causing drug resulting in death according to the CDC. The overdose risk is high, especially in the early stages of recovery. This is where 1 in 10 users who do overdose will die.
Heroin has become more available at a price that is lower than prescription opioids. The high purity of heroin in the U.S. is what is causing the danger of overdose. Its potency is unexpected and the users are not junkies that were already living on the street.
As of 2011, over 4 million Americans had tried heroin at least once. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 23% of those who tried heroin would become addicts. Studies have shown that heroin addicts are the most likely to die from an overdose.
Heroin Overdose Death Statistics
One of the reasons heroin overdose is so common can be attributed to the vulnerability of the early recovery phase. It also has a lot to do with the amount that it’s used. Heroin addiction can occur so quickly that the user has no chance of turning back. The longer a person uses heroin, the more tolerance they build up. This increases likelihood of a deadly overdose.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that heroin-related overdose death quadrupled in a 5 year span. Due to the increase in heroin and the risk of using, it has naturally caused more deaths between the years of 2010-2015.
- The CDC found that 81% of the deaths due to drug poisoning were not intentional. They would often occur in early recovery. About 12% of drug overdose was intentional while 6% was unknown.
- Since 1999, there have been more than 183,000 Americans that have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids. This can mean that the person’s gateway drug was prescribed to them and eventually lead to heroin use, overdose, and death.
- Between the years 2010-2015, fatal overdoses involving opioids like morphine, oxycodone, and methadone fell. In its place, the percentage of death related to heroin overdose tripled.
- Although the number of heroin related deaths have fallen since 1999 when it was responsible for half of drug overdose deaths, it’s still significant. This illustrates the fact that although people may intend to use drugs recreationally, the risk of heroin overdose or other drugs are possible.
- The highest number of drug overdose deaths in a single year was 50,000. In 2014, opioids such as prescription pain killers and heroin represented cause for 61% of those deaths.
- Newer heroin users are least likely to die. In heroin drug overdose deaths, studies show that 17% of deaths were new heroin users.
- A heroin addict is more at risk of death by overdose than a cocaine or meth addict. Studies found that after 30 years of heroin use, 16% of addicts will die. Deaths in cocaine addicts are 6.5% while 1.5% of meth addicts will die from overdose.
Heroin Overdose is Deadly if You Fall Asleep Alone
Many opiate overdoses that cause death occur in a user that simply forget to breathe. The calming heroin effects can cause someone to become calm and feel sleepy. When a user takes too much, they can fall asleep.
While Narcan can save a person’s life when they’ve overdosed from heroin, often the user will be alone. Nobody is there to help the user in the event that they do overdose. This is a risk that people with heroin addictions face every time they use.
When a user sleeps, the respiratory drive shuts down when on heroin. It’s natural for the body to continue breathing even as you sleep but in a heroin overdose, the body just forgets what it normally does.
Heroin Overdose Death and the Heart
Overdose with the strong opiate heroin can sometimes cause a quick decline in blood pressure. This can cause the heart to fail.
For those taking heroin intravenously shortly after recovery efforts, studies have shown that they’re 300 times more likely to die. Using heroin in this way causes an infection at the surface of the heart.
Using heroin has the potential to cause problems with a user’s heartbeat. Also known as arrhythmia. The heart may become incapable of pumping blood into the body. This causes a lack of blood flow to the whole body including the brain, organs and back into the heart.
Pulmonary edema is also a cause of overdose death when using opiates. It’s a result of an arrhythmia. When the heart is incapable of pumping the heart properly, the blood can back up into the person’s veins. That blood then goes to the lungs and to the left side of the heart.
Pressure in the blood vessels increase, causing fluid to go into the lung’s air space. This causes less space for air in the lungs so it becomes a challenge to breathe. This can lead to kidney failure or a heart attack.
What Increases Chances of Heroin Drug Overdose Deaths
Opioid overdose deaths come with strong social characteristics. Mostly men die from a drug overdose from heroin. It is more prevalent for those with heroin addiction problems that were already occurring.
Death due to heroin overdose typically happens to someone who is single. This is because there is nobody there to save a person overdosing from heroin. While Narcan is capable of saving someone who has overdosed on heroin, if nobody is there to administer it, the heroin effects will cause the user to die.
If a heroin addict does attend heroin treatment but they relapse, they are at a greater risk of drug overdose. It’s been found that users will try to use the same amount of heroin they did prior to abstaining. The body has lost its tolerance however.
The reason a heroin addict will be at greater risk of a deadly overdose is because of tolerance. The rate of how tolerant the respiratory system is for heroin is slower than tolerance to the “reward” effects. In long term users, they may need a lot of heroin to feel good but their heart hasn’t caught up with that tolerance. This is why users who are in recovery are at higher risk than others when it comes to an overdose.
Signs of Heroin Overdose
Knowing the signs of a heroin overdose can save someone’s life. In a drug overdose like heroin, the person is incapacitated with no way of helping themselves. Ambulance attendants will carry Narcan or a form of Naloxone to save a person from an opiate overdose.
The user who has overdosed on heroin will likely be found in an awkward position, appearing to be asleep. They may still have the needle in their body or something around their arm.
- Their breathing will be shallow, they may appear to be having a problem breathing, or they aren’t breathing at all.
- Their pupils are very small.
- They may have tongue discoloration.
- The pulse is weak due to low blood pressure.
- They may have a blue tint on their nails or lips.
- They may be experiencing spasms.
- They appear disoriented and can’t carry on a conversation if they’re conscious.
- Uncontrolled muscle movements.
Even if a person does survive from a heroin overdose, they may have damaged their brain. This is due to the lack of oxygen that may occur.
Deadly Heroin Overdose Doesn’t Just Affect Junkies
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most recent celebrities to die from a heroin overdose. Other celebrities that died from heroin overdose include; River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, and Jim Morrison. They all represent different eras which indicate that the effects of heroin have been a problem for decades.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was an American actor and producer. He had been sober for 23 years before he relapsed in 2012. On February 2, 2014, he died alone from a heroin overdose in his apartment. He was found with the needle still stuck in his arm.
When investigators went through Hoffman’s apartment, they found many signs of heroin use. This included syringes, prescription drugs and empty baggies one would assume held heroin at one point. The day he died, he had withdrawn money from an ATM 6 times, amounting to $1,200.
Despite the fact Philip Seymour Hoffman was a father, accomplished actor and producer, he died from a heroin overdose. He chose to be alone in his apartment using heroin. It isn’t just the heroin addict on the street that will overdose and die from heroin. Someone can die the first time they use heroin if they take too much.
Heroin Overdose Death Due to Lack or Regulation
With heroin being an illegal drug, there’s no real regulation for the potency of any given hit. Heroin is mixed with other compounds over and over before it gets to the user. Therefore, someone could be injecting heroin laced with Fentanyl. They take their normal dose but it is more potent than before, causing overdose.
The other compounds in heroin could cause an adverse effect when mixed with other substances. In most heroin overdose cases, other substances will be found in the person. This could be cocaine or alcohol. Drinking alcohol while injecting heroin can reduce how much heroin is needed to cause a deadly overdose.
Heroin effects can be different every time a person uses due what it’s laced with. In not knowing how potent the heroin is, using it is a guessing game and in a way, Russian roulette.
Prescription Pain Killers Leading to Heroin Use
The biggest factor for using heroin in the U.S. currently derives from the misuse of prescription opioids. For those addicted to opioids, they will often transition from prescription opioid use to heroin use. With new heroin users, there are about 3 out of 4 people who previously abused opioid pain killers before moving onto heroin.
The widely prescribed opioids for pain are extremely addictive. When doctors stop prescribing it to a patient, they may go through uncomfortable withdrawal. The government has cracked down on prescription pills, making it harder for patients to get. The fact is, heroin is easier to get than these prescription meds and they cost less.
So when your average person starts taking heroin, their bodies may not be used to the potency. It’s a lot stronger than the opioids for pain they were given by their doctor. It can cause opioid overdose due to lack of knowledge on tolerance and heroin itself.
Narcan, The Drug that Prevents Death in Heroin Overdose
Narcan is the antidote to counteract an opiate overdose. This has particularly been valuable since Fentanyl has been on the streets. During an opioid overdose, breathing can slow down, causing complications, or completely stop altogether.
Narcan is the brand name, containing naloxone, which blocks heroin effects and reverses an overdose. Narcan takes opioids out of opiate receptors that are located in the brain. It can help those who are having an opiate overdose with a combination of alcohol and other substances in the system.
After receiving Narcan during an overdose, the person should be able to breathe once again. It will be possible to wake the person up but brain damage may still occur. In conjunction with the Narcan medication, the person should also get oxygen immediately. This is to help avoid brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Narcan works for someone who has stopped breathing due to overdose on heroin within five minutes. It wears off fully after about 90 minutes. This gives the medication the time to knock enough opioids out of the brain receptors so the user will start breathing again.
Other helpful drugs that help people with their heroin addiction are long term opioid blockers like Buprenorphine. They help a heroin addict with their long-term recovery.
Anyone Abusing Heroin is At Risk of an Overdose Leading to Death
The most risky time for an overdose is usually in early recovery. Anyone who uses heroin is at risk of an opiate overdose. New users have the handicap of not knowing much about heroin effects. This can cause them to take too much at one time, resulting in a deadly overdose.
Long-time users create such a high tolerance that they risk a heroin overdose due to the large amount they take to feel a high. Many long-time users have lost everything due to their heroin addiction. This leaves them vulnerable to being alone when they do use heroin. It is when a person is alone and experiences a heroin overdose that they are at a greater risk of dying.