BY Zen Vuong
MAY 8, 2017 USC NEWS USC University of Southern California
“The prescription opioid epidemic is creating a heroin epidemic, which will create an injection drug use epidemic,” said Ricky Bluthenthal, lead author of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “We’ve seen the first two. Now we’re waiting to see the last emerge on the national level. I predict we’ll see an uptick in injection-related diseases over the next couple of years.”
The USC-led study, published in April in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, is based on 776 drug users in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Participants born in the 1980s or 1990s, on average, took six years to escalate from first illicit drug use to first drug injection. The average for participants born in the 1970s was nine years.
“The more rapid transition to injection is an impact of the prescription opioid-to-heroin use phenomenon,” Bluthenthal said. “Heroin is most efficiently used via injection as compared to other formerly popular drugs such as crack cocaine or even cocaine.”
Uptick in hepatitis C, HIV?Injection-related diseases can include HIV, which affects more than 1.2 million Americans, and hepatitis C, which affected an estimated 3.9 million Americans in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who inject drugs also are at elevated risk for sexually transmitted infections, abscesses and soft-tissue infections, mental health disorders, drug overdose and dying young, the study stated.
Researchers found that the first drug injected changed in tandem with national drug use trends. In general, however, heroin and prescription opiates were the most common first drug injected. Drug users born in the 1980s and 1990s moved quicker from initial illicit drug use to syringe use than those born in the ’70s.
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