The number of people entering treatment for heroin addiction in the Twin Cities reached a historic high last year and more people are getting treatment for heroin now than marijuana, a state drug abuse expert says.
"We've never seen this, this is unprecedented," Carol Falkowski, CEO of Drug Abuse Dialogues, told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer Wednesday. "At the same time, when you're in the midst of an epidemic that is something you want to see. You want to know that more people than ever are getting help for this addiction."
Heroin accounted for just 1 percent of treatment admissions in 2000 but jumped to more than 16 percent last year. The number of Minnesotans dying of opioid overdoses, which includes both heroin and prescription painkillers like Oxycodone, has increased fivefold during the same time period.
• MPR News: Minnesota's Opioid Epidemic
The largest group of those entering treatment for heroin are white men in their 20s, according to a recent Minneapolis/St. Paul Drug Abuse Trends (.pdf) report. Those using prescription painkillers are more evenly split between men and women, with 45 percent of those entering treatment over 35 years of age.
The numbers show that most of those receiving treatment for heroin use originally started using prescription painkillers, which are also opioids.
"To address any drug epidemic, historically, it has three prongs: It has prevention, law enforcement to curtail the supply, and treatment to help people who are addicted," Falkowski said. "With this epidemic, because of the relationship with prescription pain medication, we also have to look at the practice of medicine."
While it's encouraging that more people are receiving treatment for opioids and that law enforcement officials are seizing more illegal opioids, the way that doctors and patients use opioid painkillers still needs to be more fully addressed, Falkowski said.
"Most doctors only receive several hours of formal medical training about addiction," Falkowski said. "They receive more training about terroristic poisonings like ricin and biological agents, than they do about addiction."