TIME Drugs

Study: U.S. Heroin Users Are Mostly White Suburbanites

New study on heroin users confronts preconceived ideas on addicts and challenges prescription of opioids

The long-prevailing image of American heroin users is changing, as a new study shows 90% of the drug’s users are white and 75% live outside of cities.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, also confirmed the link between medical opioid abuse and the rise in heroin use. Of the nearly 2,800 heroin users surveyed, 75.2% of them were introduced to opioids through prescription drugs.

The study also found that apart from the ‘high’ specific to heroin, it was often used because it was more readily accessible and cheaper than prescription opioids. The number of U.S. heroin users has surged as prescription drugs have gotten more expensive and pills have become more difficult to crush, making them harder to snort, inject or chew. As a result, many prescription drug abusers turned to heroin, which is more dangerous as it’s often cut with other drugs or chemicals.

The study goes on to highlight a few big differences between modern heroin users and those using the drug decades ago. People who started using heroin recently are on average older (mean age, 22.9 years) and of both genders, whereas people who started using heroin in the 1960s were younger (mean age, 16.5 years) and mostly male. Also, whites and nonwhites were equally represented among first-time heroin users before the 1980s, while almost 90% of people who started using the drug in the last decade were white.

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