Heroin User Demographics Are Changing

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Recent studies have shown that the demographics of heroin users have changed over the years. No longer are heroin addicts confined to the limits of urban environments. According to recent studies done by organizations such as the Center for Disease Control, as much as ninety percent of heroin users are now white suburban residents. A survey of 9,000 residents at various treatment centers show that 23 was the average age for heroin users in treatment. Often, the gateway for heroin use is prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin.

Regarding the use of opiates, researchers have suggested that their abuse can become a gateway to heroin use, particularly when these drugs are consumed in a manner other than prescribed. According to drugabuse.gov nearly half of all young heroin users reported that they started with prescription pills. One of the misconceptions about prescription drug abuse is the idea that prescription drugs are much safer than street drugs. When taken as prescribed they are safe to use, but when overdone, the health effects can be devastating, even fatal as the CDC has reported. In their report, opioid pain relievers are more responsible for drug related deaths than most illicit drugs.

Currently, heroin user demographics have shown significant changes from young minority men in the ‘60s to white suburbanites. Heroin use has become an alternative solution for opioid users who reported that heroin was much cheaper on the street than prescription pills. A dose of heroin costs as little as ten dollars compared to the $80 needed for one Oxycontin pill. Heroin bought on the street however is subjected to being cut with various chemicals and is administered by unsanitary means, leading to the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

Evidence has also shown that while heroin abuse has been occurring since the ‘40s, the data gathered from tracking heroin use in the ‘70s had been skewed due to the assumption that heroin use was primarily an inner city issue. Heroin use has actually been just as bad an issue in white neighborhoods for the past 40 years as they have been in urban environments and inner cities.

Correlations have been found between drug abuse and depression. In more rural areas, the correlation between heroin use and a depressed economy and the challenges of daily life in these areas. Due to the rise in heroin use, heroin overdose rates have increased. In 2008, over 200,000 people had been hospitalized for heroin overdose; 2000 had died in 2007. In a response to the increase in instances of overdose, the New York Police Department has received funding that would allow officers to carry drugs such as Naloxone Hydrochloride, an antidote meant to instantly counteract the effects of heroin overdose. $1.1 million dollars in funding was raised in part by the Community Overdose Prevention Program.

Drug enforcement officials are calling for comprehensive programs meant to address the supply and demand of heroin as its user demographics continue to change. Vermont in particular has seen a two hundred sixty percent increase in heroin use. State officials believe that In order to address the issue of demand, programs that address why users find heroin use both necessary and attractive are seen by officials as the best way to combat drug addiction.

By David Jones


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