Who Abuses Heroin?

There have been big efforts on the part of local state and federal governments to make steps toward reducing the heroin and opioid epidemic impacting states around the nation, and it’s something that’s had a lot of media attention in recent years. What people often find out as they learn more about heroin and its use is that who abuses heroin isn’t necessarily who you might think.

A few decades ago, the idea of heroin abuse was one that was primarily reserved for inner cities. People had images of so-called junkies lying around the streets of the nation’s big cities with needles surrounding them, and those were by and large the communities most impacted by heroin.

Now, however, the answer to who abuses heroin has some very different answers. It’s not a drug that just impacts the inner city, nor is it reserved to just one particular demographic. It affects every demographic in a big way.

One of the theories linked to the widespread use of heroin across communities and demographics is believed to be related to the rise in abuse of prescription drugs.  Prescription opioids have become so widely available, and people often start abusing them and then move to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get.

The following outlines some interesting facts about who abuses heroin, many of which are likely to be surprising.

Who Abuses Heroin?
Before looking at who abuses heroin most prevalently, first take a look at the scope of heroin and opioid use throughout the country.

  • There were more than 20.5 million Americans 12 and older with a substance use disorder of some kind in 2015 and of those, nearly 600,000 had a disorder involving heroin
  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.
  • There were nearly 13,000 deaths related to heroin in 2015 and more than 21,000 related to prescription opioids
  • Among new heroin users, four out of five first abused prescription opioids
  • There were around 21,000 young people aged 12 to 17 who reported using heroin in 2015 and 5,000 said they currently used heroin
  • Heroin overdoses among women have tripled in recent years

So, in the general sense, who abuses heroin? It boils down to everyone, but primarily the biggest groups that are abusing heroin are white men and women who are in their 20s and don’t live in large urban areas. Heroin has moved from the inner cities to suburbs and also rural areas, particularly in recent years.

What was once thought of as being something that was predominantly done in low-income urban areas has taken a tremendous toll on middle-class suburbs and rural areas, and at the same time, heroin abuse remains a problem among low-income inner-city men as well.

Along with shifts in race and locations where people are abusing heroin, there’s also a move in age. Recent research has shown that heroin users when they first try to drug are getting older. In the 1960s the average age the first time someone tried heroin was 16, and in 2010 it was 23.

Other studies show that around 75 percent of relatively recent heroin users started with prescription drugs, which is vastly different than the 1960s where the overwhelming majority of people said heroin was the first opioid drug they tried.

While all demographics are showing increases in heroin use, according to the CDC, white, non-Hispanic males and people who live in large metros are at the most risk for heroin addiction, particularly if they’re 18 to 25 years old.

While in 2000 it was black Americans aged 45 to 64 who had the highest death rates involving heroin, it’s now white people aged 18 to 44. Heroin use among non-whites is actually declining

Along with looking at who abuses heroin, what about where heroin abuse is most rampant? While every region of the U.S. is affected and has seen rises in heroin abuse and deaths, the Midwest has seen the most dramatic increases.

States where people are abusing heroin at the highest rates include Vermont, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and states in the Midwest like Ohio.

Understanding who abuses heroin and how the face of heroin addiction is changing can be helpful from a policy level, but it can also be helpful for people to understand that it can impact their children or loved ones, and it’s no longer a problem of inner cities. It’s a problem of everywhere.

Who Abuses Heroin?
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