There has been a marked shift in the demographics of heroin users over the past several decades, recent research showed. Heroin use has gone from being an inner-city problem among minorities to one that has extended to white, middle-class users in suburbs and rural areas across the U.S.
“Our data indicate that many heroin users transitioned from prescription opioids,” researchers stated. “The factors driving this shift may be related to the fact that heroin is cheaper and more accessible than prescription opioids, and there seems to be widespread acceptance of heroin use among those who abuse opioid products.”
Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University used data from the third quarter of 2010 until the third quarter of 2013 from the Survey of Key Informants’ Patients (SKIP) Program, which is comprised of more than 150 treatment centers across 48 states. Participants in the study were required to be at least 18 years old and meet the DSM-IV criteria for substance abuse, with a primary drug that was an opioid. There were 9,346 patients who were dependent on opioids, of which 2,797 reported heroin as their primary drug of abuse. A subset of the patients surveyed also participated in an interview-based study. In total, 165 people participated in the three-month study, of which 54 listed heroin as their primary drug of abuse.
Notable observations from the study included shifts in gender, age, and ethnicity.
Men were the primary abusers of heroin in the 1960s, but this changed in recent decades. By 2010, there were nearly equal numbers of men and women seeking treatment for substance use disorders involving heroin. Initiation of heroin use in the 1960s was primarily seen in young men with a mean age of 16.5 years old. More recently, the mean age increased to 22.9 years old. Ethnically, researchers found that in the 1960s, there was a nearly equal mix of whites and non-whites seeking treatment for heroin addiction. By 2010, white users made up more than 90 percent of the total heroin users seeking treatment.