Average Heroin User Is Suburban, White, and Young. So Why Do We Still Think It's an Inner-City Problem?

Heroin has been around for a long time, and even though it isn't an over-the-counter medication anymore, we still have a lot of outdated ideas about heroin, including the stereotype that heroin users are mostly found in the inner city among poor people of color. As a new survey of treatment centers around the country shows, that couldn't be further from the truth–the average heroin addict, as it so happens, is young, white, and lives in the suburbs. Huh.

The study found that the average age of heroin users in today's world is 23, and that 90 percent of users are white. Most of them–75 percent in fact–started their drug-using careers with prescription drug abuse, but turned to heroin because it was easier to get a hold of. Yes, that's right, it's even easier to find heroin in the suburbs than it is prescription drugs.

As the head of the study, Dr. Theodore Cicero from Washington University in St. Louis, said, "Heroin is not an inner-city problem anymore." And while we're retiring stereotypes, maybe we could also take another look at the "pill-popping suburbanite" one, too. Because that's always kind of struck me as a way of saying, "Fine, I guess nice, clean, middle class people can have drug habits, but at least theirs are contained in neat little pill bottles–not like those needle drugs."

Up to 100 Americans die every day of drug overdoses, and the numbers have been growing steadily for decades. If we are to get a handle on the drug problem in America, we first need to understand it as it actually is, not as out stereotypes would have it believe. In 2007, more than 2,000 people died from heroin overdoes alone. If we are to combat this, it's time to recognize that drugs don't just affect the communities we've already declared unimportant and the people already seen as undesirable. Drugs affect all communities, and people from all walks of life.

When Glee star Corey Moneith died of a heroin overdose last year, the country was shocked–how could someone like Monteith have a heroin addiction? But as it turns out, Montieth, as a white, relatively young, and affluent person fits the profile of a heroin user perfectly. So maybe it's time we all face up to that fact.