Heroin in Connecticut’s Suburbs

Injection drug use, thought by many to be a problem of the inner cities, is prevalent and on the rise in even Connecticut’s most prosperous suburbs.

But relatively little is known about this group of suburban drug users or their drug use habits, said Lauretta E. Grau, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health. Grau worked on a multi-year study known as SHERPA (Suburban Health Education, Research, and Prevention Alliance) that gathered data from 462 persons who inject drugs (PWIDs) residing in suburban southwestern Connecticut. 

During a lecture on February 27 sponsored by the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at Yale, Grau said that research has found that the majority of PWIDs in these towns are white (88 percent), young (36 years old on average), single (67 percent have never married) and at least 80 percent have a high school education. The people in this group are also often unemployed, have a criminal record, have little or no income and often engage is risky drug-related practices that could spread HIV and hepatitis or lead to an overdose.

The SHERPA study followed drug users from 2008 to 2012. Beyond their personal circumstances, it also found that many of these users, nearly 70 percent, traveled to nearby cities such as New Haven and Bridgeport to buy drugs, and heroin was the drug of choice for 90 percent of participants. Nearly a third, 31 percent, had overdosed at some point in their drug-use history.

Grau said that the study findings suggest a need for hepatitis B vaccination campaigns that specifically target suburban PWIDs, and interventions designed to effectively recognize and prevent opioid overdoses and to improve injection hygiene should be implemented in suburban locales (similar to those in existence in urban areas).  She also noted that, similar to many urban studies, female participants were significantly more likely to engage in injection-associated risk behaviors. 

“When thinking about possible intervention strategies, innovative technologies such as smartphone apps or venues such as pharmacies should be considered,” she said.






This article was submitted by Denise Meyer on March 3, 2014.