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Health officials report increased heroin use in Alaska


July 16, 2015
Thursday AM

(SitNews) Anchorage, Alaska - Deaths associated with heroin use in Alaska more than tripled from 2008– 2013 and inpatient hospitalizations doubled over the same time period, according to an Epidemiology Bulletin release by the Department of Health and Social Services this week.

“The drastic increase in opioid pain reliever use over the past two decades has created ‘opioid hunger,’” said Jay Butler, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Social Services. “Combined with the influx of cheap and available heroin, this has created a perfect storm of heroin addiction and deaths.”

“To reverse these troubling trends,” Butler said, “we need to effectively treat addiction as a chronic disease, increase the opportunities to provide life-saving reversal of heroin overdose using naloxone, and reduce addiction by preventing inappropriate prescriptions and diversions of opioid pain relievers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a national report which also found heroin use increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.

In its report the CDC identified the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction: addiction to prescription opioid painkillers. According to the CDC, 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

According to the CDC report, some of the greatest increases occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. Not only are people using heroin, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioid painkillers. As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nationwide nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013.

From 2008 to 2012 in Alaska, heroin-related inpatient and outpatient hospital costs exceeded $2 million. During the years 2009–2013, heroin-related admissions to publicly- funded substance use treatment centers nearly doubled, and the majority of patients admitted for heroin use treatment were aged 21–29 years; the number of treatment admissions for all patients reporting heroin as their primary substance of choice increased by 58%; and the number of treatment admissions for patients aged 21–29 reporting heroin as their primary substance of choice increased by 74%.

Alaska data and recommendations are included in the Alaska’s Epidemiology Bulletin: Health Impacts of Heroin Use. Measures mention to reduce heroin-related morbidity and mortality include the following:

  • broaden access to naloxone for acute heroin overdose reversal;
  • reduce inappropriate prescribing of opioids by health care providers and enable early identifications of opioid abuse through Alaska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program;
  • treat heroin addiction with a combined behavioral and pharmacological approach;
  • evaluate Alaska’s existing heroin treatment resources to better understand the degree and distribution of coverage gaps statewide, and work to address the identified gaps;
  • endorse SAMHSA's (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) evidence-based “Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment” model to assist health care providers with assessing patients for risky substance use behaviors, engaging in communication, and treating;
  • assure that students get effective drug prevention education.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews



Alaska’s Epidemiology Bulletin: Health Impacts of Heroin Use

CDC Vital Signs Today's Heroin Epidemic; More people at risk, multiple drugs abused


Source of News:

Alaska Department of Health & Social Services

Center for Disease Control


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