For year heroin has been seen as a dirty drug. Its addictive qualities and low prices often led people to believe that it was a drug for the fringes of society. A new report from the US has shown that many people’s perception of what a heroin addict should be is all wrong.
The study found that the typical heroin user looking for treatment is a 23 year old white woman from the suburbs. This is a big change from 50 years ago where the average heroin user was 16 and black.
The study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry, shows that the shift in heroin use is related to prescription addiction. Many people are abusing prescription medications but once they get hooked, they are unable to afford to support their habit. They go looking for something to replace OxyContin or other common prescription addictions and stumble upon heroin. In heroin their find a cheap alternative that still provides a large high and is widely available without having to doctor shop or lie to a GP.
The move from prescription drugs to heroin would also explain the growing numbers of suburban heroin users. Traditionally, harder drugs have struggled to break out of the cities but with prescription addiction substances like heroin are finding a pre-prepared group of addicts looking for new highs.
The growth in heroin use among women is far harder to explain. In the 50s women accounted for 20% of all heroin users. Today women make up 52% of heroin users. The one possible explanation could be based on the way these statistics were gathered. The numbers were gained by looking at admission records from treatment centres. Some statistics indicate that women are more likely to visit doctors than men. This could mean that at least some of the increase seen in this study may be due to underreporting or male heroin use. Either way, the number of women using heroin has increased dramatically.
The study also found that more people may be taking heroin because they are self-medicating for depression. If this is true then the key to treating heroin addiction could be putting more funding toward mental health treatment.
To learn more about heroin addiction, check out the Life Works Knowledge Centre.