Heroin use has skyrocketed in the past decade and the new users are not whom one might imagine.
Use has increased five-fold, and addiction has more than tripled—mostly among white people aged 18-44.
Young and middle-aged white people, and particularly single men, account for most of the increase. Lower-income people tend to use more also.
“Heroin use was way more pronounced about whites in 2012 to 2013 compared to nonwhites,” said Silvia Martins, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
“We see nowadays that more men are using heroin than women and that is different from 2001, 2002,” he said.
Studies show that in the past whites and nonwhites used heroin equally, and more women used.
Research by Martins, links heroin to prescription opioid use.
People start with prescription drugs, then switch to street drugs, which are often cheaper.
“We also report a link between prescription opiate misuse and heroin use. So we saw that across time more heroin users report that they had first used prescription opioids. So that’s why I’m saying that there is this study bringing further evidence that there is a link between these two epidemics,” said Martins.
“Besides this link with prescription opioid use, we know that the price of a gram of heroin in the past 10 to 15 years in the U.S. has decreased. So we know that there is a higher purity of the heroin.
“And we know that heroin has become more widely available in markets where it wasn’t available, like let’s say 10 to 15 years ago. So that might also be related to this increase,” he said.
Martins recommends expanding treatment programs and a change in doctors’ prescribing practices for opioids.