Monteith Death Reveals "New Face of Heroin"

By McCarton Ackerman 07/18/13

The Glee actor's overdose highlights heroin's new demographic: white men in their 30s.

Not an atypical heroin user. Photo via

The death of Glee star Cory Monteith from a toxic mixture of heroin and alcohol shocked people. But according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monteith, who was 31, fits the new profile of typical heroin users: white males in their 30s. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) documented an alarming 80% increase in first use of heroin among teens since 2002, in addition to an estimated 258,482 emergency room visits due to heroin use in 2011. “People think it’s totally impossible that they could know somebody who could be on that trajectory,” says Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist at the University of Washington School of Public Health. "It's what a heroin user looks like." Experts say the rise in heroin use is partly due to its increasing production in South America and Mexico, where the drug is cheaper and more accessible to the US. And the US government crackdown on prescription medication also plays a role, leading many opiate addicts to shift over to heroin.

While heroin is shifting demographics, it also seems to be becoming more lethal. The steep rise overdose deaths among ages 15-24 (510 in 2009, compared with 198 a decade earlier) has been attributed in part to people mixing the drug with alcohol. “If you’re out partying at a bar, you’re most likely not doing heroin in the middle of patrons drinking socially," says Dr. Richard Clark, an emergency room physician and director of toxicology at the University of California San Diego Medical Center. “But you may be real mellow from the alcohol, go back to your hotel room and say, ‘Boy, it would be good to get high with heroin.’” Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room last Saturday, where he had been staying for a week. He had recently completed a 30-day rehab stint for substance abuse last April after maintaining sobriety for over a decade since getting treatment in his teens.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.