Yes, America, heroin use among young, white suburban users has been rising drastically in the last decade. Research is lacking, but some does exist. It seems even "good kids" can go bad.
A study, believed to be the first of its kind, explains why people use heroin, what leads them to try it, and attempts to paint a picture of a suburban Chicago heroin users. The research was conducted for the Robert Crown Center for Health Education’s Reed Hruby Heroin Prevention Project.
Their findings were the result of an unprecedented series of case studies examining 15 suburban heroin users, eight females and seven males, ages 22 to 31. The extensive interviews, led by researchers from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy (ICDP), were anonymous, conducted with disposable cell phones and unnamed Gmail accounts.
These are the findings in the "Understanding Suburban Heroin Use" study from Illinois.
This research was a 10-month study of suburban students, parents and heroin users. It concluded that most people have little knowledge about heroin when they first use it or about the withdrawal syndrome associated with it.
The case studies identified three repeated, predictable paths that are consistently leading suburban youth to heroin dependency:
1. Cocaine users who rely on heroin to soften the effects of cocaine ("come down" or sleep) but eventually become dependent,
2. Poly drug-users who fall victim to heroin's disproportionately high addiction rate compared to other commonly-abused drugs, and
3. Prescription pain pill users, abusive or otherwise who eventually replace opioid pills (OxyContin, Vicodin, etc.) with heroin.
The third camp is particularly troubling, said Kathie Kane Willis, Director of the ICDP, because pain pill addiction can happen very easily to people without a history of drug abuse. She says 70 percent of people who initiate to heroin use start with legal pain medications.
Here are some key findings from the study:
* Young suburban users demonstrated distinctive, divergent use patterns -- in some cases, more extreme than their urban counterparts. The ICDP reports that 74 percent of 18 to 24 year old suburban users in publicly-funded treatment were injection users.
* Suburban heroin users believed when they “snorted or sniffed” heroin they were less likely to become addicted.
* More than 75 percent of respondents had a concurrent mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD or bipolar disorder, and they used heroin to self-medicate.
* Two-thirds of those surveyed displayed "sensation-seeking behaviors," which researchers translated to mean they got a thrill out of driving to the West Side of Chicago to buy heroin without getting caught.
* The suburban heroin user is white, and the average age of first use is 18. But, 20% of the group reported their first heroin use at age 15
* Several of the subjects surveyed expressed a reduction in their aversion to heroin use when they realized it was chemically similar to medications legally prescribed by doctors.
"I remember thinking that I was scared to try it because it was heroin, but then I remember thinking that it was the same as oxys so it was OK...I loved oxy and I had been told that heroin was similar," a participant identified in the study as "M" told researchers.
* Many of the young people had somewhat distant relationships with their parents -- research found many of the parents didn't know how to broach the topic with their kids.
"When my dad found my pot bowl [pipe], he said 'this is for crack' and I laughed," female participant C, 27, said. "They sent me to my room and that was it...my parents missed an opportunity then."
* Widely-accepted risk and protective factors often lull suburban parents into a false sense of security, where individualized experiences prove that subtle nuances within those umbrella categories matter.
"Two-parent households are a protective factor, but not when the parents are involved in an abusive relationship with each other, or not when they are abusing their child," Kane Willis said during the community forum. "Sports and engagement are a protective factor, but not so much when the outside activities include cheerleading and using drugs, or playing sports and using drugs, or having a job and using drugs. It's complicated."
(Lizzie Schiffman. "Study On Suburban Heroin Use Dispels Myths About Protective
And Risk Factors." Huffington Post Chicago. October 21, 2011)
(Jamie Sotonoff. "Study explains why people use heroin."
Chicago Daily Herald. October 19, 2011)
("Study Sheds Light on Young Suburban Heroin Users – Research Points to Ineffective and Incomplete Drug Education as Factor in Heroin Initiation."
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