Heroin’s Changing and Challenging Demographics

Within the past 50 years the face of heroin abuse has shifted and so have the challenges in tackling the issue. As reported in The Washington Post:

Now a new study in JAMA Psychiatry underscores just how dramatically heroin abuse has shifted away from predominately minority men living in cities. Compared to 50 years ago, heroin users today are older, live in nonurban areas, and are almost evenly male and female. Perhaps most strikingly, these users probably came to heroin after taking a prescription opioid, the study shows.

Theodore Cicero, vice chairman of research at the Washington University School of Medicine, analyzed survey responses of patients in a treatment program spanning 150 publicly and privately funded centers across the country. Some participated in further interviews for the study.

The shifting demographics are quite dramatic, according to Cicero’s research:

  • While 82.8 percent of heroin users in the 1960s were men, about an equal rate of men and women are now seeking treatment.
  • The rate of heroin users seeking treatment who are white increased from just above 40 percent in the 1960s to 90.3 percent by 2010.
  • And the mean age of those seeking treatment increased from 16.5 years old  in the 1960s to 22.9 years old in 2010.

The article further notes that in addition to lower cost and greater access, Cicero attributes the shift in demographics to the greater use and misuse of prescription opioid and the increasing acceptance of heroin use from prescription opioid abusers.

Maryland is not immune to the challenges of the heroin epidemic. Substance abuse – for prescription and non-prescription opioids – has escalated in Maryland, threatening urban and rural communities throughout the State. Counties are working to curb this epidemic with responses from within their own jurisdictions and at the state level.

On Thursday, June 12, 2014  MACo is hosting a Substance Abuse Summit to provide a forum to learn about what’s being done in Maryland to address the opioid epidemic and what resources are available to counties and stakeholders who are working to prevent opioid abuse in Maryland. For more information on the event and registration please view the Substance Abuse Summit Flyer.

For more information on the shifting demographics of heroin abusers read the full article in The Washington Post.