Heroin Increases in Popularity

The popularity of heroin is rising in many areas of America that have not previously been the focus of or associated with the illegal narcotic drug. In the latest surveys, heroin abusers are likely to be suburban dwellers, white, with an average age in their late 20s; compared to a fifty years ago when heroin users were predominantly inner-city, minority teenagers.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis analyzed data and the results were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. They found that in the 1960s 80% of heroin abusers started with heroin; it was their first use of a narcotic drug. In contrast, 90% of today’s heroin abusers started their substance abuse with prescription opioids. This illustrates a very large shift in many demographic factors of heroin use.

“In the past, heroin was a drug that introduced people to narcotics,” said principal investigator Theodore J. Cicero, Ph.D. “But what we’re seeing now is that most people using heroin begin with prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin, and only switch to heroin when their prescription drug habits get too expensive.”

People who use opioids often have a legitimate reason for beginning to take a prescription painkiller. The problems arise when individuals have difficulty stopping use and unexpectedly find themselves dependent on medication. Few people abusing prescription painkillers will think that a prescription painkiller addiction is similar to a heroin addiction. However, the drugs are very similar and many prescription drug addicts are horrified to find themselves switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get hold of than some prescriptions.

Education needs to focus on sharing that heroin addiction is a growing public health concern. The rising cost of prescription medications has led many opioid drug users to seek out heroin, which is much cheaper, increasing its demand and popularity.