Not too long ago, the profile of the typical heroin user was pretty straightforward: an inner-city male about age 16. No more, says a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. Thanks in part to the surging use of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, today's typical first-time heroin user is more likely to be a white 20-something, either male or female, from the suburbs or a more rural area, reports Bloomberg. The link to the prescription drugs? People get hooked on them but can't afford to sustain the habit and so turn to cheaper, easier-to-get heroin.
“The price on the street for prescription painkillers, like OxyContin, got very expensive,” says the study's author in Forbes. “It has sold for up to a dollar per milligram, so an 80 milligram tablet would cost $80. Meanwhile, they can get heroin for $10.” The result is that 90% of new heroin users in the last decade were white, with the average age of first use at 23. Three-quarters of them got started on prescription meds. The shift to heroin has become even more pronounced as the makers of the prescription drugs take steps to curb abuse, such as making their pills harder to crush. “The crackdown in prescription narcotics has pushed more people over to heroin,” an expert at the Cleveland Clinic not involved with the study tells NBC News. (Click to read how how NYPD officers are going to start carrying a heroin antidote.)