Drug-caused deaths and heroin use among young adults increased in 2013, according to the annual King County Drug Trends report. The King County Drug Trends Workgroup releases an annual report on substance use trends each year. Findings for 2013 were presented at the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Community Epidemiology Workgroup on June 5, 2013.
“Overall, drug-caused deaths were up in 2013,” says Caleb Banta-Green, PhD, MPH, MSW, research scientist at the UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, lead author on the report. “Pharmaceutical opiates (e.g. OxyContin, Vicodin, methadone), were the most common drugs detected, although down from their peak in 2009, and heroin deaths have doubled to 99 in 2013 compared to heroin deaths in 2009.”
Heroin use has increased in young adults, ages 18 to 29, and over the past four years treatment admissions are up substantially for heroin. Methamphetamine abuse persists as a major impetus for those entering treatment, and increased deaths in 2012 and 2013 may be linked to the increase in use coupled with heroin.
Major findings in the 2013 report include:
- Heroin use continues to increase in King County and statewide; young adults are a major population of concern. Heroin involved deaths among those under 30 has increased from 7 deaths (14%) in 2009 to 34 deaths (34%) in 2013, the numbers for all ages increased from 49 to 99 respectively.
- Methamphetamine indicators are up as are indicators of combined use with heroin. Methamphetamine in police evidence tests continued to increase for the third year in a row though the numbers were well below the level of 2001. Approximately one-third of those who reported any use of methamphetamine at treatment admission also mentioned heroin use, a substantial proportional and numerical increase since 2005. Deaths involving heroin and methamphetamine together increased substantially in 2012 and 2013.
- Pharmaceutical opioids remain the most common drugs identified in drug-caused deaths--125 in total in 2013--though for the past few years the level has been approximately 25% lower than the peak in 2009. Treatment admissions with pharmaceutical opioids indicated as the primary problem declined somewhat in 2013.
- While marijuana use is widespread, indicator data are down. Police evidence for people testing positive for marijuana is down substantially from the peak in 2009 and treatment admissions for marijuana have declined for the fourth year in a row.
- More police evidence tests were positive for methylone than MDMA (“Ecstasy”) in 2013 for the first time, with methylone first appearing in substantial numbers in 2011. Methylone is similar to MDMA in terms of its chemical structure and its physical and psychological effects. Users believe that “Molly” is pure MDMA, however when evidence has been tested it is often methamphetamine or methylone.
- Overdose prevention education and take-home naloxone (also known as Narcan, an opiate overdose antidote) distribution are increasing across Washington via syringe exchanges, clinician prescribing, pharmacist direct dispensing and jails. Among heroin injectors surveyed in King County in 2013 28% had take-home-naloxone in their possession in the prior 3 months. Overdose education and a naloxone locator are available at www.stopoverdose.org.
The King County Drug Trends Workgroup includes diverse local experts on substance use including people working in street outreach, law enforcement, public health, treatment and other service providers. A complete copy of the report is available online at http://adai.uw.edu/pubs/cewg/CEWG_Seattle_June2014.pdf.