A 23-year-old white suburban dweller is not exactly what you would picture of a heroin uer, but a recent study found this is the profile replacing the urban, poor, minority heroin addict of the 1960s.

While first-time heroin users used to be in their teens, minorities, poor and living in urban environments, recent research shows that the demographic has changed. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

While first-time heroin users used to be in their teens, minorities, poor and living in urban environments, recent research shows that the demographic has changed. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

In the last 50 years, the face of heroin users have changed.

The study by Dr. Theodore Cicero with Washington University School of Medicine, based its findings on a nationwide survey of 9,000 patients dependent on narcotic painkillers. It found 90 percent of people using heroin were white, 75 percent lived in less urban areas and 75 percent were first introduced to opioids through prescription drugs.

“In the past, heroin was a drug that introduced people to narcotics,” Cicero said in a statement. “But what we’re seeing now is that most people using heroin begin with prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin, and only switch to heroin when their prescription drug habits get too expensive.

“The price on the street for prescription painkillers, like OxyContin, got very expensive,” Cicero continued. “It has sold for up to a dollar per milligram, so an 80 milligram tablet would cost $80. Meanwhile, they can get heroin for $10.”

Also adding to heroin’s attraction, the study found, was a reformulation of OxyContin that made it difficult to crush or snort.

“If you make abuse-deterrent formulations of these drugs and make it harder to get high, these people aren’t just going to stop using drugs,” Cicero said. “As we made it more difficult to use one drug, people simply migrated to another. Policymakers weren’t ready for that, and we certainly didn’t anticipate a shift to heroin.”

Highlighting the problem, the New York Police Department recently starting equipping its officers with an antidote to use on people suspected of a heroin overdose.

This study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

(H/T: NPR)

This story has been updated to correct a typo.