Prescription opioid misuse in high school linked to later heroin use

This is Archived Content. This content is available for historical purposes only. It may not reflect the current state of science or language from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). View current news releases on

Teens walking in a hall
Image by ©

A NIDA-funded study suggests that misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers in high school could be linked to heroin use later in life. Scientists surveyed close to 3,300 14-15-year-old students in ten high schools in the Los Angeles area about their misuse of prescription opioids. Eight schools were in urban neighborhoods; two were suburban. Although none of the students had used heroin prior to the initial survey, a follow-up survey 42 months later showed that seventy (2.1%) students initiated heroin use. The researchers found that nonmedical prescription opioid use was associated with future heroin use. More research is needed to evaluate whether prescription opioid misuse causes heroin use or whether other factors (for example, an environment facilitating drug use) leads to both.

The research was conducted by NIDA-funded scientists at the University of Southern California, University of California at San Diego and the University of Michigan.