Considering both the popular profile of hard drug users and the two recent overdose deaths of beloved actors Cory Monteith and Philip Seymour Hoffman, it might not surprise you to know that the demographic with the highest number of deaths from heroin overdoses is that of white men in America. But though this fact remains true, the demographics of heroin use in America are changing. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the population of users is shifting: Those who die of heroin overdoses now tend to be young white men from the Midwest.
According to the CDC, the number of heroin-related deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013. In 2000, there were 0.7 drug poisoning deaths from heroin per 100,000 people. In 2013, that number increased to 2.7 deaths per 100,000. Most of this increase occurred after 2010. Of 43,982 drug-related deaths in 2013, 8,257 were overdoses related to heroin use — almost 19 percent. The rate of increase for heroin-related deaths rose significantly between 2000 and 2010 — in those years, the rate of death rose by 6 percent each year. But from 2010 to 2013, the rate of death rose an astounding 37 percent every year.
The rate of increase in heroin overdose was dramatically more significant for men than for women. In 2013, nearly four times as many men died from heroin as did women — 6,525 male deaths and 1,732 female deaths.
The race of the average heroin poisoning victim has also changed in the past 15 years. In 2000, most of those who died of heroin overdoses were non-Hispanic black men, but by 2013, they were mostly non-Hispanic white men. And while the rate of death has increased across the board, the age of the average heroin user who dies of drug poisoning has dropped significantly. In 2000, the rate of death was highest among users aged 45 to 64. In 2013, the rate was highest among users aged 18 to 44.
And heroin is moving from the city to the country. While the rate of death from drug poisoning related to heroin has increased all over the United States, the most dramatic increase is visible in the Midwest. From 2000 to 2013, the rate of heroin-related drug poisoning deaths in the Midwest increased by nearly 11-fold. To restate: More than 10 times as many people die in the Midwest from heroin overdoses than they did 15 years ago.
Additional research supports the CDC's findings. In July 2014, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis published a study called "The Changing Face of Heroin in the United States" in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that heroin abuse mainly affects "white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas."
Heroin's recent presence in the news is not just due to the deaths of celebrities. The drug is increasingly affecting everyday Americans, too. A New York Times investigative piece published in November 2014 relayed the story of a middle-aged woman who was addicted to heroin and became a dealer. In the article, Michael Wilson and David Goodman write:
She openly acknowledges that after that first experience, she and others flooded her quiet corner of Staten Island with drugs and interloping addicts. She also suggested, as others have in recent months, that heroin, once thought of as a scourge of days past, is back, everywhere.
What accounts for the drug's move from the city to the suburbs and rural areas? The Times suggests, "Overdoses from heroin declined in the city as older users died or found treatment and the drug fell out of favor in communities ravaged during the last epidemic, in the 1970s."
Responses to heroin abuse are falling behind the trends. Officers in the New York Police Department are now being fitted with antidote kits to treat heroin or opioid overdoses. But the kits are far from being widespread throughout the country, especially where police officers need them most — in the Midwest. Only eight states allow police officers to carry them. In order to combat this growing problem, more police must be trained to administer antidotes, or people will die.
Images: CDC (4); Getty Images (1)