By the Numbers: Heroin and Opioid Use in the U.S.

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Not so long ago when news reports talked about heroin addiction, many shrugged it off. The problem only applied to a relatively small number of inner-city (read “minority”) residents around the U.S. But in just the last few years the number of heroin users has skyrocketed, and addicts can be found throughout the country, from ritzy suburbs to rural Midwestern towns. Heroin-related deaths are up around 600 percent just since 2010. The rise in heroin use, combined with a huge increase in people abusing prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, have been labeled a crisis by public health officials and politicians. The following numbers underline just how much the problem has grown in the last few years.

The number of heroin-related deaths has climbed dramatically in the past few years. National Center For Health Statistics/CDC


Number of heroin overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2015. That’s almost a 23 percent increase over 2014 heroin-related deaths (10,574) cited by the CDC. The above chart shows how the number of heroin-related deaths has grown from an annual average of around 2,000 just a few years ago. Cheap and abundant heroin, along with the decline of a long-standing stigma against heroin use, have contributed to the spike.


$78.5 Billion

Estimated annual “economic burden” of opioid misuse in the U.S. According to the CDC, that includes everything from the cost of health care and lost productivity to treatment and the burden on the criminal justice system.



Overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers in 2015. These opioid-based drugs, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl are often a “gateway drug” to heroin use. They are easy to get hooked on — just a few uses can be enough for someone to get addicted. They are also relatively expensive, which often leads the people newly addicted to these drugs to seek out the cheaper high of heroin.


219 Million

Opioid prescriptions filled by U.S. pharmacies in 2011. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, that number has almost tripled since 1991. Not coincidentally, the NIDA points out the number of opioid-related overdose deaths has nearly tripled during that time.


2,196 Kilograms

Amount of heroin seized along the Southwestern U.S. border in 2013. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, between 2000 and 2008, that figure averaged less than 500 kg per year. That is a tiny percentage of the amount that crosses the border.


1.5 Million

Possible number of heroin users in U.S. There is some disagreement on this, with estimates ranging anywhere from a half-million to 1.5 million users.



Estimated number of adolescent (ages 12-17) heroin users in the U.S. in 2015. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an estimated 122,000 adolescents are addicted to prescription pain relievers. There are a number of warning signs parents can watch for, including random moments of elation, drowsiness, confusion and social withdrawal. has more information on how to detect problems and what to do if you suspect your child is using opioids.


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