Teens abusing painkillers are more likely to later use heroin

July 08, 2019

It's an unforeseen side effect of the nation's opioid epidemic: Adolescent heroin users.

A USC study in the July 8 issue of JAMA Pediatrics shows that teens who use prescription opioids to get high are more likely to start using heroin by high school graduation.

"Prescription opioids and heroin activate the brain's pleasure circuit in similar ways," said senior author Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine and psychology and director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. "Teens who enjoy the 'high' from prescription opioids could be more inclined to seek out other drugs that produce euphoria, including heroin."

Leventhal said the study, conducted from 2013-2017, is the first to track prescription opioid and heroin use in a group of teens over time. In 2017, 9% of the nation's 47,600 opioid overdose deaths occurred in people under the age of 25, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to overdose, health risks of heroin use are devastating and include severe addiction, hepatitis C, HIV and other infections.

Using twice-yearly surveys to track high schoolers' use of various drugs, researchers followed 3,298 freshmen from 10 Los Angeles-area high schools through their senior year. Participants were asked about their previous and current use of prescription painkillers -- such as Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet -- to get high.

The researchers also asked the students if they used heroin or other substances like marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, methamphetamine and inhalants. They made statistical adjustments to account for differences in family environment, psychological disposition, family history of substance use and other factors associated with nonmedical prescription opioid use.

Of the nearly 3,300 students in the study, 596 reported using prescription opioids to get high during the first 3.5 years of high school. The researchers found that prescription painkiller use made a big difference in who later used heroin: 13.1% of current prescription opioid users and 10.7% of previous prescription opioid users went on to use heroin by the end of high school. Only 1.7% of youth who did not use prescription opioids to get high had later tried heroin by the end of high school.

"Adolescents are sometimes overlooked in the opioid epidemic discussion," said first author Lorraine Kelley-Quon, a pediatric surgeon and assistant professor of surgery and preventive medicine at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and the Keck School of Medicine. "The association between nonmedical opioid use and later heroin use in youth is concerning and warrants further research and health policy interventions."

To further confirm their results, the researchers also evaluated whether marijuana, alcohol, and methamphetamine use were linked to later heroin use. But the association between prescription opioids and heroin use was stronger than the associations for heroin use with other substances.

"While we can't definitively conclude that there is a cause-and-effect relation, there may be something unique about opioid drugs that makes youths vulnerable to trying heroin," Leventhal said. "The results do not appear to be driven by the tendency of some teens to act out, rebel, or experiment with many types of drugs."

In addition to Leventhal and Kelley-Quon, the study's authors are Junhan Cho, Jessica Barrington-Trimis and Afton Kechter of Keck School of Medicine; David Strong of University of California, San Diego; and Richard Miech of the University of Michigan.
-end-
The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01-DA033296) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (KL2TR001854).

University of Southern California

Related Heroin Articles from Brightsurf:

From pills to powder: 1 in 3 high school seniors who misused prescription opioids later used heroin
Nearly one-third of students who reported misusing prescription opioids as high school seniors between 1997 and 2000, but did not have a history of medical use, later used heroin by age 35, according to a University of Michigan study.

Heroin-addicted individuals have unique brain disturbances resembling those of Alzheimer's
Herion-addicted individuals have alterations in the expression a gene called FYN - a gene known to regulate the production of Tau, a protein that is highly elevated and implicated in neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

Large majority of Washington state's heroin users want to reduce use
A new survey of people who inject illicit drugs in the state of Washington yields positive and important findings for policy makers as the world struggles to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heroin use in US
Survey responses from a nationally representative group of 800,000 US adults were used to examine changes in heroin use, heroin injection and heroin use disorder from 2002 to 2018.

State prescription drug monitoring programs: The rise and fall in heroin fatalities
A new study found a consistent association between the adoption of state Prescription Drug Monitoring programs (PDMP) and death rates from heroin poisoning.

Fingerprint test can distinguish between those who have taken or handled heroin
A state-of-the-art fingerprint detection technology can identify traces of heroin on human skin, even after someone has washed their hands -- and it is also smart enough to tell whether an individual has used the drug or shaken hands with someone who has handled it.

What to call someone who uses heroin?
A first-of-its-kind study by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), published in the journal Addiction, has found that people entering treatment for heroin use most often called themselves 'addicts,' but preferred that others called them 'people who use drugs.'

Teens abusing painkillers are more likely to later use heroin
A USC study in the July 8, 2019 issue of JAMA Pediatrics shows that teens who use prescription opioids to get high are more likely to start using heroin by high school graduation.

Is nonmedical opioid use by adolescents associated with later risk of heroin use?
This observational study used data from a survey of behavioral health that included students from 10 Los Angeles-area high schools to examine whether nonmedical prescription opioid use was associated with later risk of heroin use in adolescents.

CBD reduces craving and anxiety in people with heroin use disorder
Mount Sinai study highlights the potential of cannabidiol as a treatment option for opioid abuse.

Read More: Heroin News and Heroin Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.