With concerns about opioid prescribing practices on the rise, many are paying closer attention to the increasing usage of heroin, especially among the country’s youth. A  paper published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence outlines the potential linkages between high school students who use prescription painkillers and heroin.

The study revealed that more than 75% of high school heroin users started with prescription painkillers. Researchers also found that nearly 24% of students who admitted to using opioids more than 40 times reported lifetime heroin use.

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The group of researchers — led by Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, an affiliate of the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC) — analyzed potential links between nonmedical use of opioids and heroin.

They examined data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nationwide ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. Approximately 15000 high school seniors from 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states are analyzed annually. Dr. Palamar and colleagues assessed MTF responses (n= 67,822) from 2009-2013.

“Any nonmedical use of opioids can be risky, but special attention needs to be given to adolescents who use more frequently,” Dr. Palamar said in a statement.

Students residing with two parents were less likely to report using prescription opioids and heroin, and black and Hispanic students were less likely to report opioid or heroin use than white students, the researchers learned.

“Teens experimenting with pills need to look at all of these people around them becoming addicted to — and dying from heroin,” Dr. Palamar said. “Most of these people started on pills and felt they had no choice but to move onto heroin. Targeting this group may prevent future heroin initiation, and decrease the troubling trend nation-wide in opiate-related deaths.”


Palamar J, Shearston J, Dawson E, Mateu-Gelabert P, Ompad D. Nonmedical opioid use and heroin use in a nationally representative sample of us high school seniors. Drug Alcohol Depen. 2015. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.11.005.