Teens Think It Would Be ‘Impossible’ To Get Heroin, Despite Epidemic

By Kelly Burch 02/28/17

A survey found that only 6% of teens thought it would be “fairly easy” to score heroin.

A group of teens walking together and smiling.

Despite the opioid epidemic and high heroin use rates across the country, a new report has found that half of teens feel they would not be able to get heroin if they wanted to. 

Almost 50% of teens ages 12 to 17 said they thought it would be “probably impossible” to acquire heroin in 2014, compared with 39% in 2002. Just 3% of teens said it would be “very easy” to get heroin in 2014 (compared with 5% in 2002); and 6% said it would be “fairly easy” (compared with 10% in 2002). 

The data comes from 230,450 teens who took the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The report appeared in the journal Preventive Medicine

"Overall it's cautious good news," said Michael Vaughn, lead author of the report and professor of social work at Saint Louis University. "It's a nuanced picture. The use of heroin is still a problem, but what you see in the news is generally more applicable to adults and doesn't apply uniformly across all populations.”

Vaughn wasn’t surprised by the findings, since teen use of drugs other than marijuana has been declining. "Overall the trend data suggests a changing landscape with respect to heroin access among adolescents that converges with recent findings on other illicit drugs," he said.

Many people assume that teens are using drugs with greater frequency because of the opioid epidemic, but that is not the case, he said. 

"It's not this constantly escalating increase in problem behavior among youth. The public's view of adolescent drug use in general is kids are exposed to all kinds of drugs and are using them more and more. But that's not really true."

According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, only 0.3% of teens reported using heroin in the past year. Overall, opioid misuse among high school seniors dropped 45% in five years, from 8.7 to 4.8%.

"Clearly our public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are working to reduce teen drug use," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “However … we cannot be complacent. We also need to learn more about how teens interact with each other in this social media era, and how those behaviors affect substance use rates."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.