Heroin deaths are rising as deaths related to prescription painkiller overdoses decline, a report finds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says heroin-related deaths doubled from 2010 to 2012, based on data from 28 states, HealthDay reports. Each state saw a boost in heroin-related deaths—and in the Northeast, that increase was 211%, Reuters reports. Dr. Len Paulozzi says the issue boils down to the over-prescribing of narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin, which increases heroin use; he says about 75% of new heroin users started by using such painkillers. Heroin overdoses now kill 2.1 people per 100,000, up from 1 per 100,000, while deaths from prescription opioid drug overdoses—still more than twice the number of heroin deaths—have slumped from 6 to 5.6 per 100,000.
The fact that heroin is cheaper than beer in some areas is pushing users toward the drug, Paulozzi notes. The switch is a major concern, "in part because it indicates an increase in intravenous drug use, which can spread diseases," Reuters notes. However, "we still have to focus on reducing the prescribing of narcotic pain relievers, because that's really what got us into this situation in the first place," Paulozzi says. Some 17,000 people die in the US each year from overdoses fueled by the over-prescribing, the study notes. "There is very little difference between heroin and oxycodone [Oxycontin] or hydrocodone [Vicodin]," says another expert. Researchers first recommend better access to treatment, then perhaps improved access to naloxone, the antidote to narcotic overdose, to fight the issue. (Read more heroin stories.)