Theodore J. Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues analyzed data on nearly 2,800 patients from an ongoing study that used surveys completed by patients with a heroin use or a heroin dependence diagnosis entering rehab. They also used data from 54 patients who completed a more detailed interview.
"Our surveys have shown a marked shift in the demographics of heroin users seeking treatment over the past several decades," the study authors wrote in the study.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found the 1960s male heroin users were primarily minorities who had an average age of 16.5. In the 1960s, 80 percent of the heroin users said their first opioid -- painkiller -- abuse was heroin.
However, in the last decade, heroin users were men and women with an average age of almost 23, with 75 percent living outside urban areas. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents who began using heroin in the last decade were white.
Seventy-five percent said they were introduced to opioids via prescription drugs, but heroin became the drug of choice because it was cheaper than prescription drugs and more readily accessible.