More Heroin Deaths Than Gun-Related Deaths in 2015
On December 8, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released startling statistics regarding opioid deaths in 2015. For the first time in history, there were more than 30,000 opioid deaths in the United States. Additionally, this represented an increase of more than 5,000 prescription drug overdose deaths over 2014. Specifically, there were 33,092 deaths caused by overdoses on painkillers last year.
Among the prescription opioid deaths, 12,989 were attributed to heroin – which is 2,000 more than the previous year. In fact, the rise in heroin deaths marks the first time that heroin deaths have surpassed gun-related deaths, which totaled 12,979. As a point of comparison, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1 as recently as 2007 – and now they’re about even.
According to Tom Frieden, the CDC director, “the epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen.” Frieden added that “prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are an intertwined and deeply troubling problem.” Similarly, Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy, stated that “the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic continues to devastate communities across the county—in large part because too many people still do not get effective substance use disorder treatment.”
The statistics outlined here beg the question: do the current gun control and drug laws work to save lives? Although heroin and guns are obviously far different things, each causes approximately 13,000 deaths per year in the US. Moreover, these shocking totals continue to rise despite severe criminal penalties on the books for violating controlled dangerous substance laws and gun laws.
Under New Jersey’s criminal laws, specifically N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10, possession of heroin is a third degree crime punishable by up to five years in prison. As for gun charges, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 sets forth that the unlawful possession of a handgun is a crime of the second degree, punishable by 5-10 years in prison. Additionally, the unlawful possession of a rifle or shotgun is a crime of the third degree, punishable by 3-5 years in prison. New Jersey also has extremely strict rules that control who is eligible to obtain a firearms purchaser identification card or a permit to purchase a handgun, with laws that require a closely monitored process for firearms purchases in New Jersey.