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Teens who abuse opioids likely to use heroin, study says

By
Tauren Dyson
More than 13 percent of young people who currently use prescription opioids to get high, and nearly 11 percent who stopped, were found to have also used heroin after high school. File Photo by Maxal Tamor/Shutterstock
More than 13 percent of young people who currently use prescription opioids to get high, and nearly 11 percent who stopped, were found to have also used heroin after high school. File Photo by Maxal Tamor/Shutterstock

July 8 (UPI) -- New findings show teens who use opioids to get high are more likely to use heroin after high school.

More than 13 percent of young people who currently use prescription opioids recreationally also used heroin after high school, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. But nearly 11 percent of those who stopped using prescription opioids recreationally also moved on to heroin after graduation.

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That's compared to only 1.7 percent of teens who didn't get high on opioids during high school school but still used heroin after graduation.

"Prescription opioids and heroin activate the brain's pleasure circuit in similar ways," Adam Leventhal, the director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science at USC and study senior author, said in a news release. "Teens who enjoy the 'high' from prescription opioids could be more inclined to seek out other drugs that produce euphoria, including heroin."

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Between 2013 and 2017, the researchers tracked prescription opioid and heroin use among nearly 3,300 high school students from freshmen year through graduation at Los Angeles-area high schools. Close to 600 teens reported using prescription opioids recreationally.

In the last year of the study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 47,600 people under age 25 had died due to opioid overdoses.

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"Adolescents are sometimes overlooked in the opioid epidemic discussion," said Lorraine Kelley-Quon, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and study first author. "The association between nonmedical opioid use and later heroin use in youth is concerning and warrants further research and health policy interventions."

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