Heroin Use Increases Among White Opioid Abusers

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Abuse of prescription opioids has been associated with greater likelihood of heroin use. And new data indicates the recent rise in heroin use affiliated with painkiller abuse comes predominately from Caucasians.

Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They compared non-prescription drug and heroin use between 2002-2005 and 2008-2011 among racial and ethnic groups.

In the latter period, the risk of past-year heroin use increased as the non-medical use of heroin increased. But the rise in heroin use between the two periods was highest among non-Hispanic whites, where it increased by 75%, researchers reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“The noteworthy increase in the annual rate of heroin abuse or dependence among non-Hispanic Whites parallels the significant increase in nonmedical opioid use during the last decade and the growing number of heroin overdose deaths described for this race and ethnic group in recent years,” lead researcher Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, said in a statement.

Among blacks and whites, significant increases in heroin use was associated with those who used opioids more frequently (between 100 and 365 in the past year). Among Hispanics, the increases were only significant in those who used opioids for 29 days or less.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked at the frequency of nonmedical prescription opioid use and the risk of heroin-related behaviors and found that past-year heroin use rose among individuals taking opioids like OxyContin and these increases varied by race and ethnicity.

The most significant rise in heroin use was among Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, where the rate of heroin use for the latter group increased by 75% in 2008-2011 compared to earlier years. Findings are online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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