Thursday, August 22, 2013

Study Links Heroin Use to Abuse of Prescription Pain Medication

A report published today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) may help clinicians and health officials seeking explanations for a dramatic rise in heroin use over the last few years. SAMHSA researchers report that it appears to be linked to the rapid spread of yet another drug-abuse epidemic, that of prescription pain medications.

The study showed that people aged 12 to 49 who abused pain medications by using them for nonmedical purposes were 19 times more likely to have initiated heroin use within the 12 months prior to being surveyed than were their age-matched peers. About 80% of recent heroin initiates had a history of nonmedical use of prescription pain medication. Commenting on the new findings, Peter Delany, Ph.D., director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, said, “Prescription pain relievers when used properly for their intended purpose can be of enormous benefit to patients, but their nonmedical use can lead to addiction, serious physical harm and even death. This report shows that it can also greatly increase an individual’s risk of turning to heroin use, thus adding a new dimension of potential harm.”

Showing the extent of the heroin-addiction problem and its rapid spread, SAMHSA reported that approximately 373,000 people used heroin in 2007, while about 620,000 did so in 2011. Of these people, 179,000 were dependent on heroin in 2007 compared with 369,000 in 2011.

For more information about the problem of prescription pain medication abuse, see the articles "Rule on Dispensing Buprenorphine Eased" and "Medication Shows Promise in Treating Opioid Painkiller Addiction" in Psychiatric News.

(image: Francis Wong Chee Yen/


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