A study published in JAMA Psychiatry stated that heroin use in the U.S. rose over the past ten years with the highest rate of use among whites and men with low-income and little education. The study came out from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and analyzed the data from over 40,000 long-term heroin users and data from two studies. This rise in heroin use is partly spurned by opioid prescription drugs. In women, the use of heroin also increased but did not see the same heights as men.
Speaking to U.S. News & World Report, Dr. Silvia Martins, the lead author and associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University said the results of the study were troubling due to the fact that the people who are most affected by the drug have the least amount of resources to deal with the problem. The study included individuals who tried heroin but did not become addicted to the drug.
The American College of Physicians called drug addiction and substance abuse a chronic medical condition and said it should be treated as an illness. Martins agreed, saying that if the public became aware of the situation, they could know that “addiction is preventable.” She and her team of researchers said that treatment programs should be expanded and opioid prescription needed to be curbed by physicians. “Regulation is needed,” she said, and those who need it should have better supervision.
In the study, reported Inverse, the researchers found that the greatest increase in heroin use was between “white people aged 18 to 44.” Martins said that heroin use was becoming more “socially acceptable” among this particular age group. Economic stress also affected this age group more, leading to increased heroin use. This link between the economy and heroin use was also cited in other studies, along with a lack of education. CNN reported that one in ten of people with a substance use disorder ever get treatment. The death rate among this age range in white males also increased.
Martins and her team concluded the study published in JAMA Psychiatry by saying there was a close link “between the prescription opioid epidemic and heroin use.” More education for physicians and the public is needed to fight against heroin use and heroin use disorder. Caleb Banta-Green, University of Washington associate professor of health services said that “we need to give them the tools they need to survive and thrive.” Dr. Banta-Green was not associated with the study.
By Cheryl Werber