What are the mortality rates of heroin toxicity?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Rania Habal, MD; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Most fatalities from heroin overdose occur in long-term users, usually early in their third decade of life. [6, 7] Fatality rates are higher in patients who use alcohol and other drugs such as benzodiazepines and cocaine. Death is most commonly due to respiratory failure or asphyxiation. [7, 8, 9]

The US National Center for Health Statistics reported that drug overdose deaths involving heroin more than tripled from 2011 to 2016, rising from 4,571 to 15,961 (from 11% to 25% of all drug overdose deaths). Of drug overdose deaths in which at least one specific drug was mentioned, heroin ranked first from 2012 to 2015, but was overtaken by fentanyl in 2016. [10]  

In 2018,14,996 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States, a rate of 4.7 deaths per 100,000 population.  Heroin-involved overdose death rates decreased 4.1% from 2017 to 2018, but the number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was still more than 7 times higher in 2018 than in 1999. [4]

About 3-7% of patients treated for heroin overdose require hospital admission because of complications such as pneumonia, noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, and infectious complications. [6]

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