Painkillers often gateway to heroin for US teens: survey

December 30, 2015 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—Three-quarters of U.S. high school students who use heroin first tried narcotic painkillers, a new survey reveals.

Survey results from nearly 68,000 seniors provide some clues to 's recent deadly path from the inner city into affluent suburbs and rural communities.

"The more times a teen uses nonprescribed painkiller pills, the greater the risk he or she is at for becoming dependent on the drug," said lead researcher Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor of population health at New York University.

"People who become dependent on painkiller pills often wind up resorting to heroin use because it's cheaper and more available than these pills," Palamar explained.

And white students appear more likely than blacks or Hispanics to travel this route, the research suggests.

More than 12 percent of the reported using narcotic painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. And 1.2 percent reported using heroin, the researchers said.

Recent and frequent nonmedical painkiller use increased the odds that kids had tried heroin: More than 77 percent of teens who reported using heroin had also used narcotic painkillers, also called opioids, Palamar said.

And almost one-quarter of kids who said they'd taken narcotic painkillers more than 40 times also reported heroin use.

Experts say there's no quick solution.

"The popularity of heroin is increasing, and it's a big problem," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Drug education is paramount, and heroin needs to be controlled, Krakower said. "But that's hard to do," he added.

Palamar believes updating drug education programs will help. But kids need to get the message that these drugs put them at risk for addiction and overdose death, he said.

"The biggest problem is that many teens don't trust drug education in schools or information provided by the government," Palamar said.

Teens are commonly taught that marijuana is as dangerous as heroin, he said. When they realize that's not true, they may develop a distrust of all other drug information, he said.

Also, narcotic painkillers present an especially complicated situation, he said.

"Most other drugs are illegal in all contexts, yet these drugs—the most dangerous drugs—are prescribed by doctors and are often sitting there in parents' medicine cabinets," Palamar said. "If teens don't believe warnings about street drugs, then why would they be afraid to use government-approved, pharmaceutical-grade pills?"

Palamar's recommendation: "We need to educate our educators, and then we need to start giving more honest and accurate information to our teens because what we're doing now isn't working."

Drug education teachers are sometimes less informed than their students "who might have learned from experience or from friends who use," he said.

The report appeared recently in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The study data came from the 2009-2013 Monitoring the Future surveys. These annual questionnaires assess the behaviors, attitudes and values of students in 130 public and private U.S. high schools.

Here are other findings from the surveys:

  • Girls and teens living with two parents were less likely to use narcotic painkillers and heroin.
  • Whites were more likely than black and Hispanic students to use narcotic painkillers or heroin. But blacks and Hispanics were more likely to use heroin without first using painkillers recreationally. This suggests it is primarily white students transitioning from pill use to heroin, the researchers said.

"Teens will be teens, and many dabble in a variety of drugs, but narcotic painkillers are one class of drugs they really shouldn't take recreationally," Palamar said. "Dependence can sneak up on you pretty quickly."

Krakower said tighter regulation of and drug reformulations that make it harder to get high have contributed to heroin use among people dependent on .

Explore further: Study finds three-quarters of high school heroin users started with prescription opioids

More information: For more on teen drug abuse, visit HelpGuide.org.

Related Stories

Study finds three-quarters of high school heroin users started with prescription opioids

December 3, 2015
Nonmedical use of prescription opioids (a.k.a.: pain-killers, narcotics) such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin has become increasingly problematic in recent years with increases nation-wide in overdoses, hospital treatment ...

On the rise: Painkiller abusers who also use heroin

October 28, 2015
New research shows that drug abusers are not completely abandoning prescription opioids for heroin. Instead, many use the two concurrently based on their availability, according to a survey of 15,000 patients at drug-treatment ...

More Americans seek treatment for painkiller, heroin abuse

December 3, 2015
(HealthDay)—More American teens and adults are seeking treatment for heroin and prescription painkiller abuse, a new U.S. government report reveals.

Painkillers, heroin drive increase in US overdose deaths

December 10, 2015
Drug overdoses rose again last year, driven by surges in deaths from heroin and powerful prescription painkillers, according to new federal statistics.

Opiate addiction spreading, becoming more complex

August 17, 2015
The growing availability of heroin, combined with programs aimed at curbing prescription painkiller abuse, may be changing the face of opiate addiction in the U.S., according to sociologists.

Report: Number of US heroin users rose 300,000 over a decade

July 7, 2015
The number of U.S. heroin users has grown by nearly 300,000 over a decade, with the bulk of the increase among whites, according to a new government report.

Recommended for you

SMURF1 provides targeted approach to preventing cocaine addiction relapse

August 14, 2018
A class of proteins that has generated significant interest for its potential to treat diseases, has for the first time, been shown to be effective in reducing relapse, or drug-seeking behaviors, in a preclinical study.

Cocaine relapse is reversed with BDNF microinjections in the brain

August 3, 2018
Cocaine relapse was significantly reduced in a preclinical model when brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) was applied to the nucleus accumbens deep in the brain immediately before cocaine-seeking behavior, report investigators ...

Gaming or gambling? Online transactions blur boundaries

June 28, 2018
In-game purchasing systems, such as 'loot boxes', in popular online games resemble gambling and may pose financial risks for vulnerable players, according to gambling psychology researchers at the University of Adelaide.

Exercise helps treat addiction by altering brain's dopamine system

May 28, 2018
New research by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions has identified a key mechanism in how aerobic exercise can help impact the brain in ways that may support treatment—and even prevention strategies—for ...

Warning labels on alcohol containers highly deficient, new research shows

May 21, 2018
Current health warning labels on alcohol beverage containers in New Zealand are highly deficient, new research from the University of Otago, Wellington shows.

Serving smaller alcoholic drinks could reduce the U.K.'s alcohol consumption

May 14, 2018
New research published in Addiction, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield, highlights the potential benefits of reducing the standard serving size of alcoholic beverages.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

scunge
not rated yet Dec 30, 2015
I personally believe when children or young people observe the adults etc especially their own caretakers recreating maybe becoming intoxicated on the drug alcohol it starts the exploration .We unwind,relax and adjust attitudes with booze we call it a beverage tell the real young ones it's "Big Peoples Soda Pop" .It's a "DRUG" .Then a drunk uncle with a beer in hand lectures the teens on how pot is bad .Hypocrisy ?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.