March 29 (UPI) -- Research at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that heroin use and heroin use disorder has increased during the last decade.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, showed the greatest increase in heroin use and nonmedical use of prescription opioids before heroin use among whites.
In response to the growing epidemics of both prescription opioids and heroin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been tapped by President Donald Trump to chair a special commission to look at the opioid epidemic across the United States.
"This is an epidemic in our country," Christie said Wednesday. "Addiction is a disease. We need to treat it that way and we need to get people the help that they need to renew their lives and help become productive members of society and our families."
Researchers in the new study analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys of 79,402 respondents to identify changes, patterns and demographics linked to heroin use.
The study showed the prevalence of heroin use increased from 0.33 percent in 2001-2002 to 1.61 percent in 2012-2013. The prevalence of heroin use disorder increased from 0.21 percent to 0.69 percent over the same time period.
The increase in prevalence of heroin use was higher among whites than nonwhites during the 12-year time period -- 0.34 percent of whites used heroin in 2001-2002 which increased to 1.90 percent in 2012-2013, compared to 0.32 percent of nonwhites using heroin in 2001-2002 while 1.05 percent used the drug in 2012-2013.
Researchers also found increases in the prevalence of people who reported misusing prescription opioids prior to using heroin increased among white users only from 35.83 percent in 2001-2002 to 52.83 percent in 2012-2013.
"The prevalence of heroin use and heroin use disorder increased significantly, with greater increases among white individuals," researchers wrote in the study. "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. Findings highlight the need for educational campaigns regarding harms related to heroin use and the need to expand access to treatment in populations at increased risk for heroin use and heroin use disorder."
Although previous research has suggested prescription opioid misuse or abuse is not necessarily connected to eventual heroin use, studies have shown those who misuse opioids are about 40 times more likely to eventually abuse heroin.
Trump officially announced Christie as responsible for the administration's efforts against the opioid epidemic during a listening session Wednesday at the White House. Christie is expected to work with the law enforcement and medical communities on the state and local level to combat the epidemic.