Purchase and Use Patterns of Heroin Users at an Inner-city Emergency Department

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Heroin; Heroin Dependence; Drug Users; Emergency Service, Hospital


Emergency Medicine


BACKGROUND: Many consider heroin abuse a problem of the inner city, but suburban patients may also be at risk.

OBJECTIVE: To characterize the demographics and purchase/use patterns of heroin users in an inner-city emergency department (ED).

METHODS: The study was conducted in one of the most impoverished and crime-ridden cities in the United States. Demographics and substance use habits of ED patients were prospectively collected. Patients who were<18 years of>age, cognitively impaired, or did not speak English were excluded. Participants were further categorized as homeless, inner-city, and suburban residents.

RESULTS: Of 3947 participants, 608 (15%) used an illicit substance in the past year, with marijuana (9%) and cocaine (6%) the most commonly used. Heroin ranked third, used by 180 (5%) participants, with 61% male, 31% black, and 20% Hispanic. There were 64 homeless, 60 suburban, and 56 inner-city heroin users. The most common route of use was injection (68%), with the highest rate in the homeless (84%). The majority of homeless and inner-city users bought (73%, both groups) and used (homeless 74%, inner city 88%) in the inner city. Of suburban users, 58% purchased and 61% used heroin in the inner city. Prescription narcotic use was more common in homeless (20%) and suburban (23%) heroin users than in inner-city users (9%) (p<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Heroin is the third most commonly used illicit substance by ED patients, and a significant amount of inner-city purchase and use activity is conducted by suburban heroin users.

DOI of Published Version



J Emerg Med. 2010 Aug 26. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

The Journal of emergency medicine

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID