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Does Teen Opioid Use Lead to Heroin Use?

Teenage girl struggling with addiction looking depressed while drugs sit on a table  

Teen prescription drug abuse can pave the way for future problems, such as heroin use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 3.4% of high school seniors have abused prescription opioids in the previous year. Unfortunately, heroin and opioid use can go hand-in-hand for teens because people with addictions to prescription opioids are at a greater risk of developing a heroin addiction.

The Relationship Between Teen Opioid Use and Heroin Use

There is a strong link between prescription opiate abuse and heroin use in teenagers, based on statistics on teenage prescription drug abuse. In a study of 3,298 teens attending 10 different high schools in California, researchers assessed the risk of heroin use among teens who didn’t use heroin at the start of the study. They found that during the course of the study, 2.1% of students began using heroin.

Students who reported current use of prescription opiates were 4.37 times more likely to begin using heroin, whereas those who reported any past misuse of opiate medications were 3.59 times more likely to begin using heroin. It is evident that prescription opioid use can lead to later heroin use among teens.

Opioid Use Risk Factors for Teens

Opioid use has a strong connection to later heroin use, and there are certain risk factors that can lead to the abuse of opioids among teens. Any of the following can increase the risk that a teen will abuse opioids:

  • Suffering from pain, whether acute or ongoing
  • Knowing a friend or relative with an opiate prescription
  • Experiencing a health issue
  • Having a history of mental health disorders like depression
  • Abusing other drugs
  • Witnessing a relative overdose
  • Hanging out with friends who abuse prescription drugs

It is important that teens with opiate use risk factors receive monitoring and early intervention, not only to lower their risk of later heroin use but also to reduce their risk of serious consequences. Unfortunately, even prescription drugs are not safe, and teenage opioid deaths are a possibility. Rates of prescription opiate overdoses have increased among teens in recent years.

Why Teens Turn to Heroin and Opioids

Teenage opioid abuse can occur for several reasons. For example, teens may experience peer pressure to use drugs if they desire to fit in with friends who are also using them. Teens may feel that prescription opioids are safe to use because they find them at home in their parents’ medicine cabinets. They may also use opiates to self-medicate depression and other mental health issues or may turn to opiate abuse to manage chronic pain arising from sports-related injuries.

Teens are most often introduced to opiates through prescriptions. Teens who receive a prescription to treat pain may develop an addiction and seek out more opioids.

Prescription opioid abuse and addiction can lead teens to heroin abuse, primarily because heroin is cheaper than prescription opiates. Teens who are using prescription pain pills every day may turn to heroin because they are less costly to maintain. Because heroin is stronger than typical opioids, its use comes with an increased risk of causing an overdose.

If you’re concerned your teen is at risk of a heroin overdose, contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about getting professional addiction treatment for your teen. Help them take the first step toward a healthier future, call today.

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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