In the United States, heroin death statistics fall under a category of “unintended drug poisonings” by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This agency tracks heroin death statistics from many causes and it can be difficult to filter out those that are due to heroin alone.
Some reasons the data for heroin death statistics is hard to pin down is because in many deaths, there are multiple drugs involved and because death may be from a consequence of heroin use, instead of a direct, fatal overdose. Someone who contracts AIDS from sharing a needle or who has a heart damaged by heroin use may die from these and not from heroin toxicity.
The CDC reports that as of 2007, heroin death statistics accounted for about 2,000 deaths in the US. This number has remained fairly steady for the previous 8 years. Because of the factors above, it is likely to be lower than the “real” number. Among the most common drug overdose deaths, cocaine and prescription drugs rank higher than heroin, with prescription opioids leading the other two. In fact, deaths from prescription drug overdose have tripled from 200 to 2007.
Although drug overdose as a cause of accidental death is only exceeded by motor vehicle accidents, someone who overdoses on heroin has a good chance of surviving if they can make it to an emergency room. This is because there is a wonderful antidote in the form of Narcan, an injectable drug that blocks the effects of heroin and other opiates. Because of this, most who get treatment will survive – in 2006, heroin death statistics show that heroin overdose accounted for 164,000 ER visits (with about 2,000 dying that year from overdose).
The rise in popularity of prescription pain killers is thought to compete with heroin use and may explain heroin death statistics and why use has remained steady. Those who abuse opiates find it more convenient and less risky to take oral pills rather than injection. Penalties are lower for prescription abuse and access may be easier.