Between 2007 and 2013, heroin-related deaths increased more than twice as much as heroin use. In my latest Forbes column, I consider some possible explanations for that divergence:
After the esteemed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died in February 2014, press coverage of the "heroin epidemic" exploded. Mentions of that phrase in the newspaper and wire service articles catalogued by Nexis rose from 681 in 2013 to 3,222 in 2014, an increase of almost 400 percent. Yet Hoffman—who by his own account used heroin in his early 20s, then abstained for more than two decades before taking up the habit again in 2013—was hardly representative of the upward trend in heroin use that began around 2008, which consisted mainly of people trying the drug for the first time.
Hoffman was typical in at least one respect, however. He died not from a "heroin overdose," as widely reported, but from "mixed drug intoxication" involving cocaine, amphetamine, and benzodiazepines as well as heroin. The combination of heroin and benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that includes Valium and Xanax, presumably was what killed him, since both depress respiration. The dangerous combination of depressants is a very common theme in so-called heroin overdoses, a fact that may help explain why such deaths have climbed dramatically in recent years—more dramatically than you would expect based on the increase in heroin consumption.