WTF, Gen Y? Certainly everyone our age has seen enough movies and heard about enough addicted celebrities to know that things go along swimmingly for your average drug user until they start using heroin. Then you’re having sex with strangers and stealing your mom’s TV and hiding suppositories up your bum maybe getting stabbed by your ex-girlfriend (RIP Elliott). This is not a route you want to take. Yet taking it more people are, across the country and at younger ages.
According to a new report from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the average age of first-time heroin users in the United States dropped from 25.5 to 21.3 years old between 2009 and 2010. And though national heroin use levels are stable, use has been increasing among young people, with the biggest rise seen in white teens and 20-somethings living in rural and suburban areas.
“This trend is going to be long and pronounced,” said study co-author Kathie Kane-Willis. “When we first did this study (on heroin) in 2004, we thought, well, this is increasing. But it’s continuing to grow, and the rate it’s continuing to grow surprises me.”
Between 2009 and 2010, heroin-related emergency room visits:
o Increased 8% among those aged 20 and younger,
o Increased 23% among those aged 21 to 29,
o Increased 15% among those aged 30 to 44, and
o Decreased 1% among those aged 45 and older.
And while the number of people over 30 entering a public treatment program for heroin abuse shrank by 3%, the number of under-30 folks seeking treatment rose 8%. The biggest increase was seen among 12-to-17-year-olds (14%), followed by those aged 18 to 20 (12% increase) and those 21 to 24 (10% increase). It’s also interesting to note racial differences between older and younger heroin users:
o Among the 30+ crowd seeking treatment, 46% were white, 31% were black and 23% were another race.
o Of those under age 30, 85% were white, 3% were black and 13% were another race.
“The $10,000 question is why,” said the study’s other author, Stephanie J. Schmitz. ”What leads to heroin use, of all things?”
The report itself, however, provides some clues to what’s fueling heroin’s rise among young people. It notes that heroin these days tends to be cheaper, purer, and easier to find in smokeable (rather than injectable) form than it did in the past. It’s also more generally available, due mostly to a drastic rise in Mexican heroin production (up 668% in just seven years).
Increased production has led to greater heroin availability throughout the U.S., but especially in Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, the report says. Cities such as Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati, New York City, Kansas City, Wichita, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Baltimore, Seattle, San Jose, Detroit, and Chicago “have all reported an alarming growth in heroin use among younger people in the suburbs,” it notes, while there have also been more reports of heroin use in smaller metro areas. “Aside from these reports, survey and treatment data also demonstrate the rise of heroin initiation among younger, predominantly white users across the nation.”