A USC study in the July 8 issue of JAMA Pediatrics shows that teens who use prescription opioids to get high are more likely to start using heroin by high school graduation.
“Prescription opioids and heroin activate the brain’s pleasure circuit in similar ways,” said senior author Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine and psychology and director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Teens who enjoy the ‘high’ from prescription opioids could be more inclined to seek out other drugs that produce euphoria, including heroin.”
Leventhal said the study, conducted from 2013-2017, is the first to track prescription opioid and heroin use in a group of teens over time. In 2017, 9% of the nation’s 47,600 opioid overdose deaths occurred in people under the age of 25, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to overdose, health risks of heroin use are devastating and include severe addiction, hepatitis C, HIV and other infections.