Some Aging Black Men and Women Continue to Struggle with Heroin Addiction

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Elodie C. Warren, MPH Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Graduate

Elodie Warren

Elodie C. Warren, MPH
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Graduate

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We know that the US has been experiencing an opioid crisis for the past two decades. And we know that among communities of color, rates of overdose deaths are continuing to increase, even though overall national rates decreased between 2017 and 2018.

To better understand how the opioid crisis has differently affected racial/ethnic groups, we looked at how heroin treatment admissions changed over time by race/ethnicity, age, and sex. We found that there were stark differences when comparing non-Hispanic Black men and women to non-Hispanic White men and women.

Importantly, our study suggests the existence of an aging cohort of Black men and women (likely including survivors of a heroin epidemic that hit urban areas more than 40 years ago) that continues to struggle with heroin addiction. This points to the need for targeted interventions in chronically underserved communities. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Despite the popular narrative, which often implies that the opioid crisis is primarily affecting young, White populations in suburban and rural areas, the truth is that opioid use disorder affects diverse racial and age groups with different needs. Too often, the epidemiology of the opioid crisis is neglected by policymakers. To more effectively tackle the crisis and allocate scarce resources appropriately and equitably, we need a better understanding of which communities are most affected, with an eye towards some of the most underserved and marginalized populations in this country. A failure to let the epidemiology guide public health efforts may explain why mortality in communities of color have increased disproportionately in the last few years.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: It will be important to continue to study the epidemiology of opioid use disorder to inform public health interventions. In our study, we compared heroin treatment admissions among non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Black men and women. Future work should examine how other underserved racial/ethnic groups have been affected over time, through substance use treatment admissions and other public health surveillance datasets. 


Warren EC, Kolodny A. Trends in Heroin Treatment Admissions in the United States by Race, Sex, and Age. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(2):e2036640. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.36640



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Last Updated on February 5, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD