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Study Reveals Teens Who Abuse Heroin Don’t Stop There

Teenage boy with lines of white powder on a table.

You know the old saying about whenever you think things can’t get worse, they do?

That’s an appropriate way to look at teens addicted to heroin. It’s hard to envision a more dire situation than an adolescent strung out on heroin and unable to focus on anything else.

But the truth is, many such teens aren’t just abusing heroin. They’re using other illicit drugs as well. And a new study out of New York University confirms this.

The Habits of Heroin-Using Teens

Researchers at NYU’s nursing school took a close look at a small subset of the Monitoring the Future survey data from between 2010 and 2016. Specifically, they examined the survey results provided by more than 300 high school 12th graders who admitted to using heroin in the past month.

Arguably the most surprising finding from this research was the fact that these heroin users also consumed other illicit substances. In fact, the average respondent reported taking five additional drugs as well as heroin.

This phenomenon is known as polysubstance abuse and can often be more difficult to treat than addiction stemming from a single drug. The secondary substance that is abused along with one’s preferred drug of choice (in this case, heroin) is known as a concomitant drug.

Some of the specific findings of the NYU study include:

  • As the teens abused heroin more often, their consumption of concomitant drugs also increased.
  • However, among teens who ingested heroin 40 or more times in the previous month, concomitant drug use actually declined.
  • The more that these teens abused heroin, the more they were also inclined to ingest benzodiazepine tranquilizers or nonmedical opioids.
  • Alcohol use tended to decrease among the individuals in this sample as heroin use rose.

The findings of the NYU study were published in the medical journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Polysubstance Abuse and Overdose

To be sure, a substantial number of heroin overdoses victimize polysubstance abusers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every five fatal heroin overdoses also involves cocaine. Other common concomitant drugs found in cases of heroin overdose deaths are fentanyl, alprazolam (i.e., Xanax), methamphetamine, and morphine.

Teenage woman sitting on the floor with a needle in her hand.

Some adolescents who turn to heroin previously began abusing prescription opioid medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, or morphine which they were legally prescribed. At some point when the medications became ineffective or unavailable, these teens sought out a heroin supplier because of the drug’s relative accessibility and low cost. However, it should be stated that the vast majority of teens (and adults) who are prescribed opioids by physicians do not become addicted to them.

Treat Heroin Abuse Seriously

Part of the problem of adolescent heroin use may be linked to the attitudes of teenagers toward the drug. According to the most recent Monitoring the Future survey, more than one out of every four 12th graders surveyed did not believe that there was great risk in using heroin occasionally. The 25.4 percent figure is the highest since 2000.

In reality, heroin has been identified as the most addictive substance on the planet – even more so than nicotine, cocaine, or alcohol. So if teens aren’t viewing heroin as a dangerous drug, some of them might not be dissuaded from trying it. In turn, a few of them may very well become addicted; and when their high from heroin isn’t enough, they’ll start mixing it with other drugs.

Although any substance dependence is serious, the potential for heroin addiction and the problems it can cause should be treated with the utmost urgency. If you suspect that your teenaged son or daughter is taking heroin, don’t hesitate to confront him or her and then contact Next Generation Village to learn about our evidence-based treatment programs specifically geared towards teens.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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