(HealthDay News) — Levels of heroin use in the United States have stabilized but are still high, according to an April 23 report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In 2013, about 681,000 Americans aged ≥12 said they had used heroin in the past year. That number has remained steady since 2009, but it is still much higher than between 2002–2008, when the numbers ranged from 314,000–455,000, the SAMHSA report found. “Heroin use has reached alarming levels throughout our nation, and we must work together to overcome this serious public health threat,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde said in an agency news release.

The report also indicates that 169,000 Americans ≥12 used heroin for the first time in 2013, including 21,000 teens ages 12–17 and 66,000 young adults ages 18–25. Overall, an average of 460 Americans a day try heroin for the first time, according to SAMHSA. Also, the number of Americans who received treatment for a heroin problem rose from 277,000 in 2002 to 526,000 in 2013. Conversely, the proportion of people ≥12 who thought heroin would be fairly easy or very easy to obtain fell from 18% in 2002 to 15% in 2013. The decline was largest – from nearly 16 to 9% – among those ages 12–17.

Even though heroin use is still relatively uncommon compared to other illegal drugs, the findings are cause for concern, the report authors said. Heroin is highly addictive and is associated with serious health risks such as exposure to hepatitis C, HIV, and other infectious diseases. And potentially fatal overdoses are always a risk, the researchers added. “It takes collective effort from all parts of our communities to educate and prevent heroin use and addiction,” Hyde said. “Everyone needs to know how to identify people with a heroin problem, help them find treatment, and know how to help prevent overdose deaths.”

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