A comparison of substance use patterns among lifetime heroin-injecting individuals by racial groups

Tabitha E.H. Moses, Jamey J. Lister, Mark K. Greenwald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Studies have identified differential substance use patterns by racial groups. One of the most commonly reported differences is a higher rate of injection drug use (IDU) among Non-Hispanic Whites compared to African Americans, but this is complicated by factors related to IDU (e.g. earlier drug-use initiation) that overlap with being White. Objective: We explored differential substance use-patterns by racial groups within a sample of injection heroin users. Methods: Substance-use data were collected from 373 not-in-treatment heroin users who endorsed any lifetime injection use (69.4% male). We examined differences in substance-use patterns (e.g. age of initiation, gateway adherence) by racial groups. Multiple t-tests with Bonferroni correction were conducted to understand which demographic and substance-use characteristics varied by racial groups. Results: Relative to Non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans (45.8% of sample) were more likely to start using heroin earlier in their life, but also more likely to experience a longer delay between starting and regularly using heroin. We also identified differences in the degree of (injection) heroin-use consequences by racial groups. After correcting for multiple comparisons and controlling for age and gender, we observed differences for six substance-use and demographic characteristics by racial group. White participants were younger, started cocaine use earlier, and experienced more heroin-use consequences across two separate domains. Conclusions: After controlling for injection use, we observed differential substance-use characteristics by racial groups. The findings could be used to develop targeted prevention and harm-reduction strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-268
Number of pages9
JournalAddiction Research and Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 3 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


  • consequences
  • Heroin
  • injection
  • race


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