By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Heroin overdose deaths in the United States nearly tripled from 2010 to 2013, according to a federal study released on Wednesday.
Although the study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not look at the reason for the sharp increase, earlier work hinted at a link to prescription painkillers: in a study released last fall, the CDC found that 75 percent of people who started using heroin after 2000 said they first abused prescription opioids.
The users said heroin was easier to get, cheaper, and more potent, causing them to switch.
The new study found that the rate of heroin-related overdoses increased from 1 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 2.7 per 100,000 in 2013, for a total that year of 8,257 people, or nearly 23 per day, with the highest rates in the Northeast and Midwest.
Although twice as many people died that year from overdosing on prescription opioids, the death rate from overdoses of Oxycontin, Percocet, and other opioid pain relievers has leveled off, CDC reported, while that from heroin is rising.
As recently as 2010, middle-aged blacks had the highest rates of heroin deaths. But in 2013, whites aged 18 to 44 had the highest death rates, with 7 fatalities per 100,000 people, the CDC found. The death rate for men was nearly four times that for women.
To combat the rise of heroin-related overdose deaths, the CDC suggested measures including drug screenings and the increased availability of naloxone, a drug that can rapidly reverse the effects of an overdose.
Although more and more police departments are carrying the drug in order to save people from overdoses, state and local governments have criticized manufacturer Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc for raising the price.
On Wednesday, the Ohio attorney general announced that Amphastar had agreed to give a $6 rebate for every dose of the drug purchased by state and local agencies in Ohio in the next year.
(Reporting by David Beasley, editing by Sharon Begley and Gunna Dickson)