Prescription Drugs Have Pushed Heroin Into the Suburbs (Newsweek, May 28, 2014)

rtx11oqwWhen clean-cut TV heartthrob Cory Monteith was found dead in his Vancouver, Canada, hotel room last summer, it was like being hit with a bucket of ice water for his fans. An autopsy found that Monteith, of Gleefame, had a toxic combination of heroin and alcohol coursing through his body. Suddenly, a hidden nationwide epidemic was front-page news.

“When heroin hits the suburbs, everything changes,” said The Washington Post. The Chicago Sun-Times reported a “Heroin Highway” bringing the drug from inner-city Chicago out to suburban Dupage County. USA Today ran a series of pieces, including one that announced, “Heroin epidemic plagues N.Y. suburbs,” and another that highlighted a “new twist: Heroin is no longer just an inner-city plague.” In New Hampshire, heroin use in the suburbs was reportedly reaching “epidemic” proportions.

It wasn’t just in the Anywhere, USA, suburbs of the Midwest, or the vast,Breaking Bad-style exurban sprawl of the fast-growing cities in the Southwest. It was the most posh and desirable suburbs in the country.

“Every part of Bergen County is touched in some way, shape or form by the heroin epidemic,” Lieutenant Thomas Dombroski of the Bergen County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office told ABC News in 2013. That same year, the Bergen Record was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of heroin addiction’s toll on the young adults of North Jersey’s wealthiest suburbs. Bergen County is mostly made up of New York City bedroom communities—park- and mansion-filled townlets where the average household income is $84,255.

These reports were bolstered by the stories of numerous individuals, usually young, usually white and always living in enviable ZIP codes. People like Monteith, who looked nothing like the inner-city users typically associated with shooting up.

A new study, published today in JAMA Psychiatry, argues that these anecdotal reports aren’t just incidental; they are indicative of a verifiable shift in demography in heroin use. Heroin addicts these days are more likely than ever before to be rich, white and suburban. And, the authors say, that shift is likely attributable to the unanswerable demand for one of medicine’s greatest—and most controversial—discoveries: prescription opioids.

Read the rest at Newsweek:


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