Racial/Ethnic Differences in Prevalence Trends for Heroin use and Non-Medical use of Prescription Opioids Among Entrants to Opioid Treatment Programs, 2005-2016

Subst Use Misuse. 2018 Jan 28;53(2):290-300. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2017.1334070. Epub 2017 Aug 30.


Recent data suggest an increase in use of heroin and non-medical use of prescription opioids (POs) in the United States, but it is unclear if these trends are consistent across racial/ethnic groups. In a nationwide prevalence study, 69,140 patients newly admitted to an opioid treatment program (OTP) completed a brief self-administered survey of past month heroin use and PO misuse from January 2005 through September 2016. We calculated heroin use and PO misuse prevalence rates, and prevalence rate ratios of Black and Latino OTP entrants compared to White entrants over time. Initially, Black and Latino respondents reported much higher prevalence of heroin use and much lower prevalence of PO misuse than White respondents. Heroin use increased among White respondents, while it decreased among Black respondents, resulting in rates that were no longer significantly different. PO misuse prevalence decreased among White respondents while it increased among Black respondents, but remained significantly higher among White respondents. Heroin use decreased and PO misuse increased among Latino respondents during the late 2000s, but these trends largely reversed in more recent years. Among OTP entrants, racially/ethnically disparate rates of heroin use, and to a lesser extent, of PO misuse have become more similar over time. These trends were stronger when analysis was restricted to OTP entrants who either had no previous OTP history or were younger. To understand potential impacts of interventions to deter PO misuse and to maximize the effectiveness of OTPs it is important to consider potential changes in opioid use across racial/ethnic groups.

Keywords: Opioid dependence; heroin; opioid treatment programs; prescription opioid misuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Heroin / adverse effects*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / trends*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Heroin