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Heroin Use, Overdose Deaths Mount in U.S.

The most common companion substances for heroin were alcohol, cocaine and marijuana, a decade-long study found.

Heroin use and overdose deaths are rising fast in the United States, particularly among whites and women, US health authorities said Tuesday.

More than 8,200 people died from a heroin-involved overdose in 2013, nearly twice the number of deaths seen just two years earlier, according to the Vital Signs report issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Heroin use has doubled among women since 2002, reaching 1.6 women per 1,000 people by 2013.

Heroin use rose 50 percent among men in the same period, to a rate of 3.6 users per 1,000 nationwide in 2013.

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About 500,000 people are currently addicted to heroin in the United States, CDC chief Tom Frieden told reporters.

"Heroin use is increasing rapidly across nearly all demographic groups, and with that increase, we are seeing a dramatic rise in deaths," he said.

"Around one in 50 people who are addicted to heroin may die of it in each year of their addiction," Frieden added.

"That is a remarkably high proportion, and a reflection of how dangerous it is to have a heroin addiction, to have heroin supply from sources where purity may change rapidly, and to be using it by an intravenous route."

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The CDC report was based on an analysis of data from the 2002-2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, comparing trends among demographic and substance-using groups.

Two key reasons for the mounting toll from heroin include an increasing number of people addicted to prescription painkillers, which contain the same active ingredients as heroin, and the low cost of readily-available the street drug, said Frieden.

Heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled over the decade studied.

Companion drugs "Alarmingly, nearly all people who used heroin also used at least one other drug on the past year and most used at least three other drugs," Frieden added.

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The most common companion substances for heroin were alcohol, cocaine and marijuana.

Sixty percent of heroin-related overdose deaths involved at least one other drug.

Frieden also addressed what he described as misperception by some that addicts are moving on to heroin as a replacement for prescription painkillers.

"In general, what we are finding is the higher the rate of prescription opioid use, the higher the rate of heroin use."

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Since the drugs work in much the same way, those who are addicted to prescription painkillers are "primed" for heroin addiction.

Abuse or dependence on opioid painkillers was the strongest risk factor for heroin use or dependence.

The low cost of heroin is also a draw for addicts. The drug costs five times less than prescription painkillers.

May 29, 2012 --

A recently released biography on President Barack Obama details a young Obama's high school days smoking marijuana. The president had previously admitted to using the drug in his 1995 autobiography, "Dreams of My Father." Obama's history of drug use is a past behavior that is certainly still frowned upon, but he is by no means the only president to have a drug history. Find out which other presidents had a history of use, going all the way back to the nation's Founding Fathers.

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Obama's immediate predecessor, former President George W. Bush, had a turbulent drug history before his political career. Bush has maintained a policy of silence around his past youthful indiscretions, other than to say he has been clean since 1974. Reports of his younger days, however, suggest that Bush had a wild lifestyle for a time, indulging in marijuana and even cocaine.

Former President Bill Clinton's entry on this list might need to come with an asterisk. Although the former president had publicly admitted to trying marijuana during his younger days, by his account, he never actually felt its effects. As part of MTV's "Choose or Lose" get-out-the-vote campaign for the 1992 presidential race, the cable network hosted a town-hall style meeting with then-candidate Clinton. When asked whether he had smoked marijuana, Clinton answered he had, but he "didn't inhale."

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President John F. Kennedy, Jr., might have the most complex history with drugs out of any president in U.S. history. Like some 42 percent of Americans today, Kennedy tried smoking marijuana during his younger days, according to an ex-girlfriend who knew him during his college years. In a book released last year, she recounts an incident in which Kennedy lit up while on vacation in Jamaica. Kennedy also took many different prescriptions for a variety of health conditions that he kept secret from the American public. These drugs included "codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep" and more, according to medical records.

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President Franklin Pierce may have had an odd way of motivating men on the battlefield. According to contemporary accounts of Pierce, he used to smoke marijuana with his soldiers during wartime. In fact, during the Mexican-American War, Pierce declared that smoking cannabis was "about the only good thing" about the conflict.

Long before cocaine was a controlled substance that came with a heavy jail sentence for abusers, it was a legally available and widely used pain reliever. The drug, however, was as addictive then as it is now. Stricken with oral cancer, President Ulysses S. Grant used cocaine throat drops regularly to soothe his pain. In fact, Grant reportedly took cocaine while he wrote his now famous memoirs. He would remain addicted to the drug until the illness claimed his life at age 63.

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Andrew Jackson was another president who openly smoked marijuana on occasion. Like Pierce, Jackson smoked with his troops during wartime, along with tobacco cigars.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and one of the country's Founding Fathers, grew vast fields on hemp of his plantation. In fact, an early draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, a common material at the time. Whether Jefferson actually smoked his crop is a matter of historical debate. One quote attributed to Jefferson -- "Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see." -- hasn't been found in any of his writings and is likely apocryphal. Jefferson's Farm Book, however, does include references to growing hemp that could indicate he was growing them for purposes of recreational smoking.

George Washington, arguably the most admired figure in U.S. history alongside Abraham Lincoln, was not only a user of marijuana, but a major advocate for the spread of hemp as a cash crop in the United States. Washington grew hemp as a fiber, and even has several journal entries detailing his efforts to grow a better crop. Washington also suffered from tooth pain, and it's believed that he smoked marijuana to bring relief.

Read More: American History