Heroin use has increased sharply across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. Some of the greatest increases occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women, people who are privately insured, and people with higher incomes.

How big is the problem of heroin overdoses?

Not only are people using heroin, they are also using multiple other substances, including cocaine and prescription opioids. Nearly all people who use heroin also use at least 1 other drug.1

Heroin-involved overdose deaths have increased by nearly 5 times since 2010 (from 3,036 in 2010 to 14,996 in 2018).2 From 2017 to 2018, the heroin-involved overdose death rate decreased by over 4%.3 Factors that may contribute to the decrease in heroin-involved deaths include fewer people initiating heroin use,4  shifts from a heroin-based market to a fentanyl-based market,5  increased treatment provision for people using heroin, and expansion of naloxone access.6

Learn More: Heroin Data

How is heroin harmful?

  • Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive opioid drug.
  • A heroin overdose can cause slow and shallow breathing, coma, and death.
  • People often use heroin along with other drugs or alcohol. This practice is especially dangerous because it increases the risk of overdose.1
  • Heroin is typically injected but is also smoked and snorted. When people inject heroin, they are at risk of serious, long-term viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B, as well as bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream, and heart.7


  1. Jones CM, Logan J, Gladden RM, Bohm MK. Vital Signs: Demographic and Substance Use Trends Among Heroin Users — United States, 2002–2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2015; 64(26):719-725.
  2. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.
  3. Wilson N, Kariisa M, Seth P, et al. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths—United States, 2017-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:290-297.
  4. CDC. 2019 Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes — United States Surveillance Special Report.pdf icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Published November 1, 2019.
  5. U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment.pdf iconexternal icon Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration; 2019.
  6. Guy GP, Jr., Haegerich TM, Evans ME, Losby JL, Young R, Jones CM. Vital Signs: Pharmacy-Based Naloxone Dispensing – United States, 2012-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Aug 9;68(31):679-86.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs: Opioids. http://www.samhsa.gov/atod/opioidsexternal iconexternal icon.
Access the latest data. Learn what can be done about overdoseand related harms. CDC VitalSigns