HEROIN moves to suburban, rural areas, study finds

Thursday, May 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ A New Jersey study suggests that heroin, a longtime scourge of America's inner cities, is becoming a suburban and rural problem.

The number of city-dwelling heroin users treated each year in the state dropped by half during the 1990s, while the number treated from suburban and rural areas nearly tripled, the government reported Thursday.

Analysts said people in outlying areas may be less aware than city dwellers of other diseases linked to heroin use, such as AIDS and hepatitis.

``It's less of a personal experience for them,'' said Dr. Anna Kline, a researcher at the New Jersey Health Department. ``They haven't seen their relatives and friends dying of AIDS.''

New Jersey addiction centers treated 1,817 suburban and rural heroin users in 1999, up from just 691 in 1993. Over the same period, the number of urban users treated annually dropped from 2,018 to 1,076.

The study also suggested that a new generation of heroin users may prefer injecting the drug to snorting it, exposing themselves to a broad range of bloodborne diseases.

Nearly half of the 18- to 25-year-old heroin users treated in New Jersey in 1999 reported injecting the drug, up from just 22 percent in 1993.

The change mystifies health officials. Most of the young addicts were injecting high-purity heroin. Traditionally, purer heroin is snorted, not injected.

Also Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that needle-exchange programs became widely popular in the late 1990s as a way to prevent AIDS.

A national survey found more than 19 million syringes were provided in 1998 by more than 100 programs that supply drug users with clean needles in exchange for used ones. Eight million exchanges were reported in 1994 and 1995.