Heroin Users in US: 90% White, Live Outside Urban Areas, Study
Heroin Users in US: 90% White, Live Outside Urban Areas, Study

Heroin Users in US: 90% White, Live Outside Urban Areas, Study

The heroin users of today are more likely to be women, whiter, and older than Americans who used the drug in the past.

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry compared the population of heroin users between the 1960s and today. It found broad shifts in the age, sex, and race of heroin users, driven largely by experimentation with prescription painkillers.

The researchers suspect the rise of prescription drug abuse served as a gateway to heroin addiction for many users. While prescription drugs can be very costly, heroin can be obtained cheaply and easily.

“In the past, heroin was a drug that introduced people to narcotics,” study author Theodore J. Cicero, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said in a press release. “But what we’re seeing now is that most people using heroin begin with prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin, and only switch to heroin when their prescription drug habits get too expensive.”

Today, the average heroine user is 23 years old and tends to live in a suburban or rural area. More than 90 percent of the study subjects who reported that they began abusing heroin in the past decade were white. However, the study authors acknowledged that their research was limited, since they only analyzed participants seeking treatment for their addiction.

Overall, the researchers said they hope more research into the changing nature of heroin addiction will help lead to better control of the problem.

“The overdose deaths and hospitalizations are symptoms of a problem that we really need to deal with,” Cicero said. “You can’t effectively treat people or prevent addiction unless you know why they are taking drugs, and we don’t really have a handle on that yet. Unfortunately, the problem with heroin is it’s the most powerful opiate ever created, and even if people think they are being careful, it can kill.”


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