Four Things You Should Know about the Changing Face of Heroin Use


Heroin use is not going away. In fact, it’s becoming more prevalent in the United States. The CDC released a comprehensive study of shifting demographics among heroin users over the last thirteen years, including some trends that might challenge your pre-conceived notions of who is and is not a heroin user. We’ve highlighted four major findings from their research to illustrate how the face of heroin use is changing.


  1. The connection between painkillers and heroin is growing. The largest increase in heroin use for the duration of the study (2002-2013) was among nonmedical prescription opioid users. Individuals who reported using non-prescription painkillers within the last 12 months showed a 138% increase in heroin use over the same time period. But the link between heroin and nonmedical prescription opioid abuse is more than coincidental. Another study cited by the CDC suggested that the rate of hospitalization for overdoses related to opioid abuse could be used to anticipate the number of heroin overdose hospitalizations in the years that followed. CDC researchers went so far as to conclude that “abuse or dependence on opioid pain relievers was the strongest risk factor for heroin abuse or dependence.”


  1. Young adults are especially at risk. People between the ages of 18-25 saw an increase in heroin use by almost 110% in the last decade. By comparison, people over the age of 25 saw an increase in use of almost 60% over the same time period.


  1. Deaths by overdose are increasing. From 2011 to 2013 the death rate related to heroin overdose increased by 286%. Poly-substance use increased the likelihood of an overdose leading to death, and most heroin users reported using at least one other substance within the past year. Yet while the number of deaths attributed in part to heroin is already significant, the CDC suggests that the actual number of deaths related to heroin use may be much greater. One out of four death certificates that list “drug overdose” as the cause of death make no mention of what drugs were found responsible.


  1. Overall use is increasing. The overall increase in heroin use is one of the most significant results of the CDC’s study. White non-Hispanic males between the ages of 18-25 without health insurance and making under $20,000 a year are still the most likely to report heroin use within the past year. But within groups historically at a lower-risk for use, including individuals in higher income brackets and those with private health insurance, reports of heroin use have increased 60% over the past decade. Women have seen an increase in heroin use of 100% over the same time period.


While there are certain demographic groups statistically at a higher risk for heroin abuse, an implicit conclusion from the CDC’s study is clear: now more than ever, anyone can become addicted heroin.