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: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes.

The Problem
Since 2010, heroin overdose death rates have more than quadrupled.

How big is the problem of heroin overdoses?

Not only are people using heroin, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioids. Nearly all people who use heroin also use at least 1 other drug.3

As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths – 15,482 people died in 2017 alone. Between 2010 and 2017, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths increased by almost 400%.4

Learn More: Heroin Data

Photo: upset young woman

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.2
What Can Be Done?

Who is most at risk of heroin addiction?  Heroin use is part of a larger substance abuse problem. CDC Vital Signs www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin

  • People who are addicted to prescription opioids
  • People who are addicted to cocaine
  • People without insurance or enrolled in Medicaid
  • Non-Hispanic whites
  • Males
  • People who are addicted to marijuana and alcohol
  • People living in a large metropolitan area
  • 18 to 25 year olds1


  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. HHS takes strong steps to address opioid-drug related overdose, death and dependence. Press Release: March 26, 2015. http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2015pres/03/20150326a.htmlexternal icon.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs: Opioids. http://www.samhsa.gov/atod/opioidsexternal icon.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Demographic and Substance Use Trends Among Heroin Users — United States, 2002–2013. MMWR 2015; 64(26):719-725.
  4. Hedegaard H, Miniño AM, Warner M. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2017. NCHS Data Brief, no 329. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. DrugFacts: Heroin. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroinexternal icon.
  6. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Kasper ZA. Increased use of heroin as an initiating opioid of abuse. Addict Behav. 2017 Nov;74:63-66.
CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain