The Average Heroin Addict Is Not Who You Think It Is


The news: This might be what you think the normal heroin junkie looks like.

But this is what the normal heroin addict actually looks like today:

Image Credits: Getty

Today's average heroin user is a white suburbanite in their early 20s. This goes against the common misconception that heroin use is primarily a minority-centered and inner-city issue. Times have changed. 

Data packed: Over the past 50 years, heroin and opioid addiction has drastically shifted its target demographic. On Wednesday, JAMA Psychiatry published the results of a study called "The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States; A Retrospective Analysis of the Past 50 Years." In it, the researchers determined that 90% of heroin users are white men and women. 

According to the study, the median age of male users used to be around 16 years old, but the current median age for men and women now is around 23 years old. Three-quarters of these current users were first introduced to heroin by way of prescription opiates like Oxycontin. That means that expensive prescription drugs are serving as a gateway drug for young millennials living in suburbia trying to find an inexpensive but dangerous alternative: heroin. 

Image Credit: JAMA Psychiatry

The study suggests that the driving force behind young adults making that transition is that heroin is cheaper and easier to access than prescription opioids. The study concludes with a quote from one of the interviewees that exemplifies the pattern shift: "All of my friends use heroin, and I know multiple people who will sell it to me or help me find someone who has it. Also, if I have money, I wanna spend it on something I know will get me high. If I buy pills, I might not have enough money to make sure I get high." 

A growing trend: "The Changing Face of Heroin" is unique in that it defies the general, racially charged image of heroin users. The evidence still seems to surprise us: For example, Keri Blakinger's story of being an Ivy League student turned heroin addict turned convicted felon garnered the attention that supported the release of her book. Her history mirrors the data found in the study: Blakinger is white, from a small town, and her addition transitioned from Oxycontin to heroin. 

New England is a hotspot for the heroin epidemic. The prescription drug and Oxycontin problem in Vermont grew into a "full-blown heroin crisis," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said in his State of the address in January.

If that isn't scary enough, in many states, the most common drug addiction is to either heroin or opiates. The girl next door really isn't who you think she is anymore.