Racial/ethnic Differences in Prescription Opioid Misuse and Heroin Use Among a National Sample, 1999–2018

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.108588

Posted on RAND.org on February 19, 2021

by Megan S. Schuler, Terry L. Schell, Eunice C. Wong

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Objective

To characterize racial/ethnic differences in past-year prescription opioid misuse and heroin use.

Methods

Data on 1,117,086 individuals age 12 and older were from the 1999–2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. We compared relative prevalences across 6 racial/ethnic groups for prescription opioid misuse analyses and 4 racial/ethnic groups for heroin analyses. Unadjusted and gender- and age-adjusted prevalences are reported for 5 time periods (1999–2002, 2003–2006, 2007–2010, 2011–2014, 2015–2018). Survey-weighted Poisson regression models with robust variance were used to estimate risk ratios by race/ethnicity and to test for time trends.

Results

Prescription opioid misuse was significantly higher among non-Hispanic White individuals than among Black, Hispanic, and Asian individuals across all time periods, yet was highest among Native American individuals in every time period. The relative difference between White and both Hispanic and Asian individuals significantly widened over time, whereas the gap between Black and White individuals significantly decreased. Early in the study period, heroin use was highest among Black and Hispanic individuals. Heroin use among White individuals first surpassed all other groups in 2007–2010 and continued to steadily increase, more than doubling from 1999–2002 to 2015–2018.

Conclusions

While heroin use has risen among all racial/ethnic groups, the demographics of heroin use have changed significantly in the past two decades such that prevalence is now highest among White individuals. Opioid prevention and treatment initiatives should both be informed by the changing demographics of heroin use and seek to reduce opioid-related harms and expand treatment access equitably for all racial/ethnic groups.

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