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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

More Teen Rx Addicts Switch to Smack

Young painkiller addicts often "graduate" to cheaper, more intense heroin.


Many young people don't realize the dangers
of heroin. Photo via

By Gabrielle Wuhl


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Many opioid painkiller addicts move on to use heroin—and that trend seems to be behind a current spike in teenage heroin addiction. Addiction to prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, is rising fast among teens. And with the economy flat and the cost of Rx drugs on the rise, heroin—which now tends to be purer and cheaper on the street than before—is often seen as a more affordable, more accessible, alternative. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heroin use has increased 80% among 12 to 17-year-olds since 2002, and the rate of young adult deaths caused by heroin has more than doubled in the last decade. NBC News has conducted interviews with dozens of former young heroin addicts: most started with prescription drugs that cost $20-$60 a time, and then turned to heroin for a more intense, cheaper high at $3-$10 a bag. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that US deaths from prescription drugs tripled between 2000 and 2008, with 14,800 attributed deaths in 2008, and officials fear that a new rise in heroin addiction could cause a similar toll. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican heroin production has rapidly increased in recent years—by more than 43 metric tons from 2002 to 2011—increasing access to the drug in metropolitan areas across the US.

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