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April 15, 1974

Heroin-Overdose Deaths in Atlanta: An Epidemic

Author Affiliations

From the Office of the Director (Dr. Huber), Epidemiology Program, Center for Disease Control, Health Services and Mental Health Administration, Public Health Service, US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Chief Medical Examiner (Dr. Stivers), Fulton and DeKalb Counties, and Georgia State Crime Laboratory (Dr. Howard), Atlanta. Dr. Huber is now with the Office of Population, Agency for International Development.

JAMA. 1974;228(3):319-322. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230280021024

Heroin-overdose mortality in Atlanta increased from 0.4/100,000 population in 1970 to 1.9/100,000 in 1971. Eight persons, most of whom were young black men, died in one 11-day period. Concurrently, 12 heroin-overdose survivors were hospitalized. Both groups in this epidemic reportedly had little or no tolerance for large doses of heroin.

Heroin content in consumer packages increased from an average of 8.4 mg per package before, to 12.8 mg per package during the epidemic. Heroin content varied from 3.3 to 33.3 mg of heroin per package during this period, although there was great variation in other months as well. The lack of dose standardization may be one important factor in heroin mortality, placing those who have been abstaining and novice heroin users at particularly high risk of overdose.

(JAMA 228:319-322, 1974)