December 09, 2015
1 min read

Young, white men at increased risk of transitioning from opioids to heroin

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A significant proportion of high school seniors, particularly white students, who were heroin users reported being lifetime opioid users, according to recently published data.

“Increases in heroin use in the last decade may be related to opioid use and transition from opioid to heroin use, particularly among young, white, nonurban males. We found a dose response indicating that greater frequency and more recent use of nonmedical opioids results in substantially greater odds of heroin use,” Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Population Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, and colleagues wrote.

Palamar and colleagues analyzed data from the 2009 to 2013 Monitoring the Future study to assess the correlation between nonmedical opioid use and heroin initiation among high school seniors. The study included 67,822 responses from across 48 states.

Results demonstrated that 12.4% of participants reported lifetime use of nonmedical opioids and 1.2% reported lifetime heroin use.

More than 77% of students who were heroin users reported being lifetime opioid users, according to the researchers. Moreover, lifetime heroin use was reported by 23.2% of students who had used opioids more than 40 times in their life.

Opioid and heroin use was less common in females and in students living with two parents. Black and Hispanic students were less likely to use opioids, compared with white students, but were more likely to report heroin use without prior use of nonmedical opioids, according to Palamar and colleagues.

“A teen may take an Oxy a couple of times and remain unscathed. But a lot of teens don’t realize these pills can be physically addicting. A lot of teens don’t trust warnings about the harm prescription opioids can cause because they’re taught that using any drug — even marijuana — even once, will ruin their life forever. Teens experimenting with pills need to look at all these people around them becoming addicted to and dying from heroin. 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 decreased the troubling trend nationwide in opiate-related deaths,” Palamar said in a press release. – by Casey Hower

Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.