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 they might expect.

A few decades ago, the idea of heroin abuse was one that was primarily reserved for inner cities. Now, it’s clear that heroin is 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 prescription drug abuse.  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.

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 19.7 million Americans 12 and older with a substance use disorder of some kind in 2017 and of those, nearly 500,000 had a disorder involving heroin
  • Poisoning, including drug overdose, was the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. in 2017
  • Drug overdose deaths involving heroin rose from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,482 in 2017

So, in the general sense, who abuses heroin? It boils down to everyone, but 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 people who first try the drug are getting older. In the 1960s, the average age the first time someone tried heroin was 16, and in 2013, it was 24.5.

Other studies show that around 80 percent of people who use heroin started with prescription drugs, which is vastly different than the 1960s when the overwhelming majority of people said heroin was the first opioid drug they tried.

Along with looking at who abuses heroin, where is heroin abuse 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 Virginia, Illinois and California.

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 only a problem of inner cities. It’s a problem everywhere.