A Sad 1st in America: Heroin Overdoses Outpace Gun Homicides
Tighter restrictions on opioids have driven addicts to heroin
In a report published December 8, 2016, the CDC said that in 2015, heroin deaths spiked by more than 2,000 cases since 2014, resulting in a sad milestone: There were more heroin-related deaths that year than gun homicides. As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1. 
The number of opioid deaths increased by 30,000 from 2014 to 2015 – another first for the U.S. – up from 5,000 in 2014. But for the first time since at least the 1990’s, heroin deaths outnumbered deaths from traditional opioid painkillers, like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Additionally, deaths involving potent synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75% from 2014 to 2015.
But according to the CDC’s data, deaths may involve more than 1 individual drug category, so the numbers may not be mutually exclusive. For example, many opioid deaths involve multiple types of opioids, or opioids combined with alcohol.
CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement:
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen. Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, also said in a statement:
“The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic continues to devastate communities and families across the country—in large part because too many people still do not get effective substance use disorder treatment. That is why the President has called since February for $1 billion in new funding to expand access to treatment.”
Congress recently passed a spending bill allocating $1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic. That amount includes money for addiction treatment and prevention.
The CDC data was released just a week after the DEA closed its open comment period on kratom, an herb that many credit with helping them safely withdraw from opiates. 
Opioids in 1996, to the Late 90’s, to Today
Opioid use exploded in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but the opioid epidemic may have started in 1996, the year OxyContin was introduced to the U.S. market. In its first year on the market, OxyContin earned its maker, Purdue Pharma, $45 million. By 2000, that number ballooned to $1.1 billion. Ten years later, OxyContin raked in $3.1 billion for the pharmaceutical company, and accounted for about 30% of the painkiller market.  
OxyContin rose to the top of the opiate heap because Purdue was giving doctors kickbacks for prescribing the pain reliever, and heaping massive bonuses on sales execs who convinced doctors to prescribe OxyContin over other opioids.
This is not the only cause of the opioid crisis, but it may have been the jumping-off point. And as the crisis ballooned, state and federal authorities started issuing tighter restrictions on painkillers, driving opioid addicts to the illicit market to get their hands-on heroin.
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said:
“Criminalization drives people to the margins and dissuades them from getting help. It drives a wedge between people who need help and the services they need. Because of criminalization and stigma, people hide their addictions from others.” 
 The Week
Julie Fidler has written hundreds of articles on key world topics such as health, drugs, and law. She is also the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. Oh, and she loves to take care of two ridiculously- spoiled cats in her free time.