U.S. Officials Target Escalating Drug Overdoses

Deadly epidemic is driven by abuse of narcotic painkillers and heroin

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers mount across the United States, government officials are searching for ways to stem the toll of addiction.

The death last week of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, in New York City from an apparent heroin overdose highlighted this escalating problem.

"The use of opioids -- a group of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers -- is having a devastating impact on public health and safety in communities across the nation," Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said during a Tuesday morning news conference in Washington, D.C. "In 2010, approximately 100 Americans died from overdoses every day," Kerlikowske said. Prescription painkillers were involved in more than 16,600 deaths that year, and heroin was involved in about 3,000 deaths, he added.

Overdose deaths now surpass deaths from murder and car crashes in America, he said. Heroin's popularity has soared in recent years -- jumping to 669,000 users in 2012 from 373,000 in 2007, according to government figures provided at the news conference. However, heroin is still much less common than other drugs, Kerlikowske added.

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