Heroin Use Surges Among Whites Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers

Heroin Use Surges Among Whites Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers

Heroin Use Surges Among Whites Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers

Efforts to curb illicit drug use should target this population, researchers say

SOURCE: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, news release, April 27, 2015

THURSDAY, April 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Heroin use rose among people who abuse prescription narcotic painkillers such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, a new study found.

The most significant increase was a 75 percent jump in the number of white people using heroin in 2008 to 2011, researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health revealed.

"The noteworthy increase in the annual rate of heroin abuse or dependence among . . . whites parallels the significant increase in nonmedical opioid [narcotic] use during the last decade and the growing number of heroin overdose deaths described for this race and ethnic group in recent years," study leader Dr. Silvia Martins said in a university news release. Martins is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

Heroin use also spiked among Hispanics, according to the study.

The study included information from 67,500 people who answered questions about their heroin use. These findings could help public health officials develop programs to prevent heroin use, the authors suggested.

The investigators found that the use or abuse of heroin, dependence on the drug, and the risk of past use of the drug increased along with the frequency of narcotic painkiller use between 2008 and 2011.

"Individuals tend to use prescription opioids as a substitute for heroin when heroin is unavailable, to augment a heroin-induced 'high,' to 'treat' withdrawal symptoms, and to curb heroin use," Martins explained in the news release.

The researchers also found more frequent heroin use for Hispanics who used prescription painkillers between one and 29 days in the past year.

Significant increases in heroin use were also identified among blacks and whites who used prescription painkillers between 100 and 365 days in the past year.

With the exception of Hispanics, the study found that anyone who frequently used prescription narcotics was at greater risk for ever injecting heroin, as well as for heroin abuse or dependence in the past year.

"This is alarming and raises concern since injection drug use among prescription opioid users can contribute to the spread of HIV . . . as well as of hepatitis C," Martins concluded.

The study was published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about substance abuse.

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