Heroin Trends Across Washington State

Washington, like much of the United States, has seen increases in the use and harms associated with heroin. Because direct measurement of heroin use is difficult, various indicator data are used instead. Police evidence provide a close to real time picture of what is available on the street. Treatment data tend to lag behind heroin availability and onset of use by several years. Deaths are a lagging indicator as well, though King County data show an increase in deaths involving heroin among those under 30 in 2012, indicating that the lag may not be as long as expected. The rate of all opiate deaths (heroin and/or Rx-type) has nearly doubled in the past decade.

For some, abuse of prescription-type opiates (e.g. morphine, oxycodone, methadone) leads to heroin use* so preventing inappropriate use of prescription (Rx) opiates is important. All opiate overdoses can be prevented and most can be reversed before they become fatal. This report summarizes the most recent data available for heroin and includes information about resources to help people prevent and treat opiate addiction and prevent fatal overdoses.

Fatal overdoses involving heroin and/or Rx-type opiates (unintentional)

The average annual number of deaths from 2000-2002 was 310, from 2009-2011 it was 607. The majority of deaths involved Rx-type opiates from 2000-2011. Heroin and unspecified opiates increased in the period from 2009-2011. King County data for 2012 indicate 84 heroin involved deaths, up from 49 in 2009, with all of the increase among those under 30 (data not shown).

Infectious diseases can be spread via injection drug use

Washington state has a low prevalence and incidence of HIV among injection drug users (IDU) which is related to our longtime and widespread syringe exchange programs dating back to 1988. Hepatitis B and C can be spread more easily than HIV via injection drug use. In King County 75% of IDU’s have Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C diagnoses from 2009-2011 indicate that some of the highest rates are also in counties where heroin indicators are the highest; however, current data on risk factors related to hepatitis infection are unavailable.

UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute
June 2013