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Demographics of heroin users change in past 50 years

Heroin users nowadays are predominantly white in their late 20s living outside large who were first introduced to opioids through compared to the 1960s when heroin users tended to be young urban men whose opioid abuse started with heroin.

Few studies on the of present day heroin users have compared them to heroin users 40 to 50 years ago who were primarily young men from minority groups living in urban areas.

The authors analyzed data on nearly 2,800 patients from an ongoing study that used self-reported surveys from patients with a heroin use/dependence diagnosis entering treatment centers and also from patients who completed a more detailed interview (n=54).

Respondents who began using heroin in the 1960s were predominantly young men (average age 16.5 years) whose first opioid abuse was heroin (80 percent). Recent users were older (average age almost 23 years) men and women living in less urban areas (75.2 percent) who were introduced to opioids through prescription drugs (75 percent). Nearly 90 percent of the respondents who began using heroin in the last decade were white. Heroin was often used as the drug of choice because it was cheaper than prescription drugs and more readily accessible.

“Our surveys have shown a marked shift in the demographics of heroin users seeking treatment over the past several decades.”

The research was published in JAMA Psychiatry.


JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 28, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.366.

Authors made conflict of interest and funding disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.