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Concept: Heroin


The U.S. opioid epidemic is continuing, and drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999-2014. Among 47,055 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2014 in the United States, 28,647 (60.9%) involved an opioid (1). Illicit opioids are contributing to the increase in opioid overdose deaths (2,3). In an effort to target prevention strategies to address the rapidly changing epidemic, CDC examined overall drug overdose death rates during 2010-2015 and opioid overdose death rates during 2014-2015 by subcategories (natural/semisynthetic opioids, methadone, heroin, and synthetic opioids other than methadone).* Rates were stratified by demographics, region, and by 28 states with high quality reporting on death certificates of specific drugs involved in overdose deaths. During 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. There has been progress in preventing methadone deaths, and death rates declined by 9.1%. However, rates of deaths involving other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone (likely driven primarily by illicitly manufactured fentanyl) (2,3), increased sharply overall and across many states. A multifaceted, collaborative public health and law enforcement approach is urgently needed. Response efforts include implementing the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain (4), improving access to and use of prescription drug monitoring programs, enhancing naloxone distribution and other harm reduction approaches, increasing opioid use disorder treatment capacity, improving linkage into treatment, and supporting law enforcement strategies to reduce the illicit opioid supply.

Concepts: United States, Drugs, Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Drug overdose, Opioid overdose


During 1999‒2015, 568,699 persons died from drug overdoses in the United States.* Drug overdose deaths in the United States increased 11.4% from 2014 to 2015 resulting in 52,404 deaths in 2015, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. The largest rate increases from 2014 to 2015 occurred among deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (synthetic opioids) (72.2%) (1). Because of demographic and geographic variations in overdose deaths involving different drugs (2,3),†CDC examined age-adjusted death rates for overdoses involving all opioids, opioid subcategories (i.e., prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids),§cocaine, and psychostimulants with abuse potential (psychostimulants) by demographics, urbanization levels, and in 31 states and the District of Columbia (DC). There were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016; 42,249 (66.4%) involved an opioid.¶From 2015 to 2016, deaths increased across all drug categories examined. The largest overall rate increases occurred among deaths involving cocaine (52.4%) and synthetic opioids (100%), likely driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) (2,3). Increases were observed across demographics, urbanization levels, and states and DC. The opioid overdose epidemic in the United States continues to worsen. A multifaceted approach, with faster and more comprehensive surveillance, is needed to track emerging threats to prevent and respond to the overdose epidemic through naloxone availability, safe prescribing practices, harm-reduction services, linkage into treatment, and more collaboration between public health and public safety agencies.

Concepts: Demography, Drugs, Opioid, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Naloxone, Drug overdose


Illegal drug use continues to be a major threat to community health and safety. We used international drug surveillance databases to assess the relationship between multiple long-term estimates of illegal drug price and purity.

Concepts: Drug, Drug addiction, Heroin, Occupational safety and health, MDMA, Illegal drug trade, Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs


In March and October 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and CDC, respectively, issued nationwide alerts identifying illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) as a threat to public health and safety (1,2). IMF is unlawfully produced fentanyl, obtained through illicit drug markets, includes fentanyl analogs, and is commonly mixed with or sold as heroin (1,3,4). Starting in 2013, the production and distribution of IMF increased to unprecedented levels, fueled by increases in the global supply, processing, and distribution of fentanyl and fentanyl-precursor chemicals by criminal organizations (3). Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine (2).* Multiple states have reported increases in fentanyl-involved overdose (poisoning) deaths (fentanyl deaths) (2). This report examined the number of drug products obtained by law enforcement that tested positive for fentanyl (fentanyl submissions) and synthetic opioid-involved deaths other than methadone (synthetic opioid deaths), which include fentanyl deaths and deaths involving other synthetic opioids (e.g., tramadol). Fentanyl deaths are not reported separately in national data. Analyses also were conducted on data from 27 states(†) with consistent death certificate reporting of the drugs involved in overdoses. Nationally, the number of fentanyl submissions and synthetic opioid deaths increased by 426% and 79%, respectively, during 2013-2014; among the 27 analyzed states, fentanyl submission increases were strongly correlated with increases in synthetic opioid deaths. Changes in fentanyl submissions and synthetic opioid deaths were not correlated with changes in fentanyl prescribing rates, and increases in fentanyl submissions and synthetic opioid deaths were primarily concentrated in eight states (high-burden states). Reports from six of the eight high-burden states indicated that fentanyl-involved overdose deaths were primarily driving increases in synthetic opioid deaths. Increases in synthetic opioid deaths among high-burden states disproportionately involved persons aged 15-44 years and males, a pattern consistent with previously documented IMF-involved deaths (5). These findings, combined with the approximate doubling in fentanyl submissions during 2014-2015 (from 5,343 to 13,882) (6), underscore the urgent need for a collaborative public health and law enforcement response.

Concepts: Drug, Opioid, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Naloxone, Opioids, Drug Enforcement Administration


A large fraction of heroin users now report that they formerly used prescription opioids nonmedically, a finding that has led to restrictions on opioid prescribing. Nevertheless, only a small fraction of prescription-opioid users move on to heroin use.

Concepts: Opioid, Morphine, Heroin


Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a postnatal drug withdrawal syndrome that occurs primarily among opioid-exposed infants shortly after birth, often manifested by central nervous system irritability, autonomic overreactivity, and gastrointestinal tract dysfunction (1). During 2000-2012, the incidence of NAS in the United States significantly increased (2,3). Several recent publications have provided national estimates of NAS (2,3); however, data describing incidence at the state level are limited. CDC examined state trends in NAS incidence using all-payer, hospital inpatient delivery discharges compiled in the State Inpatient Databases of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) during 1999-2013. Among 28 states with publicly available data in HCUP during 1999-2013, the overall NAS incidence increased 300%, from 1.5 per 1,000 hospital births in 1999, to 6.0 per 1,000 hospital births in 2013. During the study period, significant increases in NAS incidence occurred in 25 of 27 states with at least 3 years of data, with annual incidence rate changes ranging from 0.05 (Hawaii) to 3.6 (Vermont) per 1,000 births. In 2013, NAS incidence ranged from 0.7 cases per 1,000 hospital births (Hawaii) to 33.4 cases per 1,000 hospital births (West Virginia). The findings underscore the importance of state-based public health programs to prevent unnecessary opioid use and to treat substance use disorders during pregnancy, as well as decrease the incidence of NAS.

Concepts: Nervous system, Childbirth, United States, Addiction, Heroin, Withdrawal, Benzodiazepine, Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome


Preliminary estimates of U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeded 60,000 in 2016 and were partially driven by a fivefold increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), from 3,105 in 2013 to approximately 20,000 in 2016 (1,2). Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine, is primarily responsible for this rapid increase (3,4). In addition, fentanyl analogs such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths (5,6) and the illicit opioid drug supply (7). Carfentanil is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine (8). Estimates of the potency of acetylfentanyl and furanylfentanyl vary but suggest that they are less potent than fentanyl (9). Estimates of relative potency have some uncertainty because illicit fentanyl analog potency has not been evaluated in humans. This report describes opioid overdose deaths during July-December 2016 that tested positive for fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, or U-47700, an illicit synthetic opioid, in 10 states participating in CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) program.* Fentanyl analogs are similar in chemical structure to fentanyl but not routinely detected because specialized toxicology testing is required. Fentanyl was detected in at least half of opioid overdose deaths in seven of 10 states, and 57% of fentanyl-involved deaths also tested positive for other illicit drugs, such as heroin. Fentanyl analogs were present in >10% of opioid overdose deaths in four states, with carfentanil, furanylfentanyl, and acetylfentanyl identified most frequently. Expanded surveillance for opioid overdoses, including testing for fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, assists in tracking the rapidly changing illicit opioid market and informing innovative interventions designed to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

Concepts: Drug, Opioid, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Naloxone, Opioids, Drug overdose


Background Current pharmacologic treatment of the neonatal abstinence syndrome with morphine is associated with a lengthy duration of therapy and hospitalization. Buprenorphine may be more effective than morphine for this indication. Methods In this single-site, double-blind, double-dummy clinical trial, we randomly assigned 63 term infants (≥37 weeks of gestation) who had been exposed to opioids in utero and who had signs of the neonatal abstinence syndrome to receive either sublingual buprenorphine or oral morphine. Infants with symptoms that were not controlled with the maximum dose of opioid were treated with adjunctive phenobarbital. The primary end point was the duration of treatment for symptoms of neonatal opioid withdrawal. Secondary clinical end points were the length of hospital stay, the percentage of infants who required supplemental treatment with phenobarbital, and safety. Results The median duration of treatment was significantly shorter with buprenorphine than with morphine (15 days vs. 28 days), as was the median length of hospital stay (21 days vs. 33 days) (P<0.001 for both comparisons). Adjunctive phenobarbital was administered in 5 of 33 infants (15%) in the buprenorphine group and in 7 of 30 infants (23%) in the morphine group (P=0.36). Rates of adverse events were similar in the two groups. Conclusions Among infants with the neonatal abstinence syndrome, treatment with sublingual buprenorphine resulted in a shorter duration of treatment and shorter length of hospital stay than treatment with oral morphine, with similar rates of adverse events. (Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse; BBORN number, NCT01452789 .).

Concepts: Clinical trial, Opioid, Morphine, Drug addiction, Addiction, Heroin, Naloxone, Benzodiazepine


To estimate the cost, effectiveness, and cost effectiveness of HIV and HCV screening of injection drug users (IDUs) in opioid replacement therapy (ORT).

Concepts: Drug, Hepatitis C, Drug addiction, Heroin, Drug injection


Drug checking is a harm reduction strategy which allows users to check the content and purity of illicit drugs. Although drug checking has been trialled internationally, with demonstrated value as a harm reduction and health promotion strategy, the use of such services in Australia remains a contentious issue. This study aimed to investigate the proportion and patterns of illicit drug use among young people, their attitudes towards drug checking at festivals and the potential impact of drug checking on intended drug use behaviour.

Concepts: Drug, Drugs, Drug addiction, Heroin, Illegal drug trade, Harm reduction, Illicit drug use in Australia, Festival