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More Than 75% Of High School Heroin Users Also Use Opioids

By Paul Gaita 12/11/15

An ongoing nationwide study found staggering statistics about teen heroin and opioid use.

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New research has indicated that the more than three-quarters of high school seniors who report regular abuse of heroin have also used nonprescription opioids.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research and the New York University Langone Medical Center, analyzed data from Monitoring the Future, an ongoing nationwide study of American secondary school students. The survey examined approximately 15,000 high school students in 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states in the United States between 2009 and 2013.

What researchers learned was that while the number of students who reported lifetime non-medical opioid or heroin use was low—12.4% for the former and 1.2% for the latter—77% of the individuals who reported lifetime heroin use also reported lifetime opioid use. Recent use of opioids made using heroin more likely, and nearly a quarter (23.3%) of respondents who said they had used opioids more than 40 times also reported using heroin.

The demographic breakdown of respondents found that girls and students who lived with two parents reported the lowest incidents of using heroin and opioids, while black and Hispanic students were less likely to graduate from opioid use to heroin than their white counterparts—going straight to heroin instead. However, black and Hispanic students were generally at low risk for both opioid and heroin use. “This suggests that it is primarily the white students who may be transitioning from pill use to heroin,” said study co-author Dr. Pedro Mateu-Gelabert.

The study’s results support other findings that suggest that prescription drug users are not leaving their substance of choice behind for heroin, but instead are taking advantage of the relative ease in finding both drugs. A 2014 survey of patients in drug treatment centers in 49 states found that 42% of respondents reported using both heroin and prescription painkillers within a month of entering treatment—nearly double the number (23.6%) who reported doing the same in 2008.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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