When it comes to heroin abuse and prescription painkiller abuse, researchers have been trying to determine all the factors that connect the two, beyond the obvious similarity in being opiates. A commonly held belief among the medical community and the public was that use of painkillers eventually leads to heroin abuse. However, some studies are showing that this explanation is not exactly accurate. While it is true that most heroin addicts now originally started using prescription opioids, it does not mean that most people who become dependent on painkillers will turn to heroin.
In an effort to uncover how a person becomes addicted to heroin, researchers at Wright State University conducted a three-year study on people who admitted to current abuse of prescription painkillers. The researchers sought out to determine if these individuals were more or less likely to abuse heroin and if there were any other similarities that would allow experts to predict a person’s likelihood of future heroin abuse.
The study focused on people from the ages of 18 to 23, an age group that has been acknowledged as a pivotal time for drug experimentation and abuse. Researchers chose the subjects because they were currently abusing prescription painkillers, but had not yet abused heroin at the start of the study. However, as the study continued, researchers found that 27 of the 383 test subjects eventually made the conversion to heroin.
“Although almost 50 percent of our sample were African-American who were involved with pain pill use, all of people who transitioned to heroin use were white,” said Robert G. Garlson, director of the Center for Interventions, Treatment and Addiction Research at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine. “And, we’re still trying to determine exactly what the reasons for that are.”
Racial factors are certainly not the only indicator that someone will begin to abuse heroin after abusing prescription painkillers. The researchers also found that people who begin abusing pills early on in life are more likely to resort to heroin as well. Additionally, people who consumed prescription painkillers orally were less likely to abuse heroin, while people who snorted the drug had a higher tendency of future heroin abuse.
Profiling the demographics of certain subsets of substance abusers isn’t just a statistical exercises, as the information is useful for researchers and clinicians to help develop more treatment and prevention programs that target those specific populations.