People are often under the misconception that prescription pain relievers are safer than illicit drugs as they are prescribed by certified medical practitioners. But what they do not realize is that when people fail to follow the prescription and change the dosage or consume others’ prescription medicines, it may lead to adverse effects, such as addiction, overdose and death. As individuals abusing prescription opioids often switch to heroin due to its easier availability and lower price, researchers classify prescription painkillers as gateway drug to heroin.
A recent study, titled “Nonmedical opioid use and heroin use in a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school seniors,” found that using opioids for reasons other than that of medical grounds can be risky for adolescents who later resort to heroin.
The study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in November 2015, intended to find an association between non-medical use of opioids and heroin in high school seniors. The link between the occurrence and recent use of non-medical opioids and heroin was evaluated, apart from understanding how social and demographic factors influence the use of each drug.
Increase in frequency of lifetime opioid use increases odds for heroin use
The study found that recent opioid use, i.e., within the last 30 days, heightened the risk of using heroin. Approximately, one-fourth or 25 percent of the students who had reported to the use of opioids more than 40 times reported to use heroin for the rest of their lives. It was also found that 75 percent of high school heroin users first started with prescription painkillers.
For the purpose of the research, the scientists retrieved data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nationwide ongoing annual study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. The study used MTF responses during 2009-2013 from a survey conducted in an estimated 130 public and private schools across 48 American states.
Commenting on the findings, co-author of the study Dr. Joseph J. Palamar, an affiliate of the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), said, “Some 12.4 percent of students reported lifetime nonmedical opioid use and 1.2 percent reported lifetime heroin use. As frequency of lifetime opioid use increased, so too did the odds for reporting heroin use with over three-quarters of heroin users reporting lifetime nonmedical opioid use. More frequent and more recent nonmedical opioid use was associated with increased odds for reporting heroin use.”
Students living with both parents at lower risk of using opioids and heroin
The observations pointed out that females and students living with both their parents were at lower risk of using opioids and heroin. The black and Hispanic students were less likely to misuse opioid and use heroin as opposed to incidents of opioid abuse reported among white students.
Stressing on the conclusions, co-author of the study Dr. Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, a principal investigator with CDUHR, said, “Interestingly while we found that black and Hispanic students were at low risk for both opioid and heroin use generally, black and Hispanic students were more likely to use heroin without first using opioids in a nonmedical manner. This suggests that it is primarily the white students who may be transitioning from pill use to heroin.”
Teens using opioids frequently need to be educated about its effects
The results are significant in the light of the fact that adolescents use opioids not prescribed for them and though non-medical use of opioids is the common risk factor in opioid abuse, adolescents using it more frequently need to be educated about its adverse effects and the current state of epidemic gripping the U.S.
Mateu-Gelabert said, “The importance and urgency of the need for prevention, treatment, and intervention cannot be emphasized enough. Governmental officials at the local, state and federal agencies such as Health and Human Services (HHS) and now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are all desperately trying to stem the unprecedented rise in drug overdose deaths, which are now the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.”
Road to recovery
It is imperative for parents and guardians to educate their wards about the possible dangers of prescription abuse as non-medical opioid use can increase the risk of addiction among teenagers. A habitual opioid use can cause not only obvious changes in behavior and personality, but also irritability, restlessness and anxiety.
If you or your loved one is addicted to any particular substance and is looking for treatment, you may contact the Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline for more information about various prescription drug abuse treatment centers in your area. You may also call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-450-1557 or chat online for further expert advice.