Heroin use is increasing among U.S. adults and adolescents at an alarming rate. The reason appears to be linked to the high cost of prescription painkillers, their addictive properties, as well as tough laws established for prescribing and purchasing opioids. Heroin is easy to get and much cheaper and it is becoming a huge problem not only for adults but teens as well.
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 high school seniors provide some clues to heroin's recent deadly path from the inner city into affluent suburbs and rural communities.
"The more times a teen uses non-prescribed 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.
Researchers say that white students appear more likely than black or Hispanic students to start with painkillers and then move on to heroin.
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.
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.
Adolescents are particularly difficult to persuade that drug use can get out of control quickly. For decades, the government has taught that marijuana is just as dangerous as heroin. Many Americans now believe that marijuana use is not dangerous and four states have legalized recreational use with others considering it.
Palamar notes that narcotic painkillers present an especially complicated situation.
"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 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.
The report appeared recently in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Source: Steve Reinberg, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20151229/painkillers-often-gateway-to-heroin-for-us-teens-survey