Heroin Use Spikes Among White Americans Over Decade-Long Study

During the past decade, white Americans have been the driving force of the heroin epidemic that grips our nation.1

That’s according to an original investigation just published in JAMA Psychiatry. In the massive study of almost 80,000 respondents, heroin prevalence increased five-fold over an 11-year span, to about 1.61 percent of the American population. But the data showed white Americans are disproportionately pushing the numbers up.

“The proportion of individuals reporting initiation of nonmedical use of prescription opioids before heroin use increased across time among white users only,” stated the authors, led by Dr. Silvia S. Martens.

The story of how painkillers have turned white Americans from even “good” families into heroin addicts is an interesting one. Because the use of prescription medications is so widely accepted in our society, abusing prescription pills seems unobjectionable, particularly to young people from cultures who don’t want to be accused of being an addict.

But the fact is, painkillers eventually become too difficult or expensive for these users to obtain, so they switch to the cheaper form of heroin. There, stigma remains, with families not wanting to discuss what is really going on.

The subjects in the study by Martens, et al., used 43.3 percent men and 56.7 percent women. The average age was 46 years old.

“The prevalence of heroin use and heroin use disorder increased significantly, with greater increases among white individuals,” the authors wrote. “The nonmedical use of prescription opioids preceding heroin use increased among white individuals, supporting a link between the prescription opioid epidemic and heroin use in this population.”

How Jared Pulled His Life Together

Jared M. popped pills, got multiple DUIs and eventually ended up at a Suboxone clinic, according to his sobriety story on the recovery community website “Heroes in Recovery.”2

“College should be the best time of someone’s life, but for him it was the worst time of his life,” the authors of the Heroes in Recovery piece wrote. “He was alone in rooms full of people. His life got darker, but he had moments of awareness and reality.”

Then, Jared called his parents for help, and they reached out to the student health center. This was before the college had a Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC).

Like so many recovered addicts, especially the sort that nobody ever thought had a chance at recovery, Jared now works in the recovery business helping others get sober.

“He could make his dream come true and now works at a treatment center that includes collegiate recovery in their program. He helps other young people walk the path of recovery as he did,” according to Heroes in Recovery. “He shows them the way it takes to get an education in sobriety and how not to be a slave of the past. Jared is married today and very happy [with] how his new life has been. He found his calling in his job and in helping others working the steps.”

Ambree: Don’t’ Run, Wait

In a beautifully written piece, Ambree B. explains how she ended up an addict – very much a true representation of the study, even if she did not participate in it directly.

“My family and I moved often, but my drug use started in Baltimore City,” she writes. “When I grew up, we moved yearly between Baltimore City and a small town in New Hampshire. My parents never stayed in one place long. I smoked some pot during high school and had some drinks starting at about 15, but nothing took me down until almost ten years later. At 22, I got married, had my first child at 24, and started to use Vicodin after I gave birth. Before that, I had never done heavier drugs. I worked as a paralegal, and my life seemed just fine.”3

Ambree ends her Heroes in Recovery story with some words of wisdom for others: “Getting clean and sober was not easy. Nothing worth having comes easy. My biggest impulse was always to run, even when it starts hurting just a little bit. If you can just sit through it, and don’t run from it, you find a way better life on the other side. I finally stayed in it long enough to go through the pain. I had to remember those things in order to find healing. I ran for so long, I wish that someone would have told me earlier to wait, instead of run.”


1. Martins, S. et al. (2017, March 29). Changes in U.S. Lifetime Heroin Use and Heroin Use Disorder. Prevalence From the 2001-2002 to 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. JAMA Psychiatry. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2612444?resultClick=1
2. Jared M. (2016, June 16). I got my second chance. Heroes in Recovery. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/got-second-chance/
3. Ambree B. (2017, March 2). I ran from pain. Heroes in Recovery. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/i-ran-from-pain/

Written by David Heitz

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