According to a new study by researchers at New York University, three-fourths of all high school heroin users began with prescription opioids. High school seniors run the greatest risk of using non-medical opioids and heroin, but drug use persists across all high school grade levels. Obtaining prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin from peers or parents’ medicine cabinets is easy. Combined with the increasing availability of these drugs for purchase on the black market, high school students face a greater risk of opioid abuse than ever before.
The Opioid Abuse Epidemic In Numbers
Based on a sample of 7,372 high school students from three independent schools, researchers found that 17.6% of high school seniors reported lifetime medical use of prescription opioids. While medical use only was not a significant precursor of drug abuse, nonmedical use was. The odds of substance abuse behaviors increased among the 12.9% of high-school seniors who reported a history of nonmedical use of prescription opioids. About 80% of nonmedical opioid drug users with a history of medical use obtained the drugs from a previous valid prescription.
Nearly one-in-four high school seniors in the United States has been exposed to medical or nonmedical prescription opioids. The rate of opioids prescribed in the country has almost doubled since 1994 among adolescents. This increase has no doubt contributed to the great number of high school students misusing opioids today. The majority of high school students taking opioids get them from peers or from previous opioid prescriptions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says America is in the midst of a painkiller overdose epidemic. Per day, medical centers treat about 7,000 people for nonmedical prescription drug use in the U.S. The abuse of prescription opioids relates to the increase in heroin use – a trend that’s jumped 63% in the last 11 years. A study found that opioid use within the past 30 days was a major risk factor for heroin use in high school students. About 23.3% of students who had used opioids reported also using heroin, and 77% of heroin users reported using nonmedical prescription opioids.
Sources Of The Adolescent Opioid Problem
The rate of opioid overdoses has decreased marginally since 2006. However, many experts believe this decrease is due mostly to the fact that opioid users have switched to heroin. Heroin is less expensive and more easily available. The rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013. Heroin user demographics have shifted: Decades ago, Caucasian users were in relative balance with other users. Today, Caucasians use prescription opioids and heroin more often than African American and Latino people. The same holds true in studies regarding high school students.
As new studies continue to report astonishingly high numbers of students using and abusing prescription drugs, parents and policymakers search for the source of the problem. Many attribute the growing issue to lack of education and awareness among America’s youth. Teens generally view prescription opioids as safe drugs to use, since the federal government approves them. Many teens don’t realize the highly addictive nature of opioids, their serious health consequences, or their potential as a gateway drug for heroin.
According to recent research, one of the main sources of the growing opioid epidemic in high schools is the easy availability of prescription drugs. Doctors prescribe opioids to adolescents for legitimate purposes, but students can quickly become addicted to the drugs and start using them for recreational purposes. Peers sell or give their prescription opioids to other students, failing to realize the consequences of their actions.
Hope For The Future Of Adolescents And Addiction
The need for prevention, early intervention, and proper treatment is vitally important for protecting today’s youth from opioid abuse and, eventually, heroin abuse. Although opioids are effective in treating pain, the amount of non-medical use has become a widespread public health issue. National policymakers, educators, parents, and medical professionals need to target anti-drug efforts toward today’s youth – particularly high school seniors.
We need to give special attention to students regularly taking legitimate prescription opioids and educate students on the dangers of taking them nonmedically and giving them to friends. Targeting this group could lead to a decrease in heroin users who got their start taking prescription opioids. The more we learn about the opioid epidemic in America’s high schools, the greater the chance is of putting an end to this troubling trend in the future.