Objectives To examine the relationship between nonmedical use of prescription opioids and heroin initiation from childhood to young adulthood, and to test whether certain ages, racial/ethnic, and income groups were at higher risk for this transition. Study design Among a nationally representative sample of US adolescents assessed in the 2004-2011 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health cross-sectional surveys (n = 223 534 respondents aged 12-21 years), discrete-time hazard models were used to estimate the age-specific hazards of heroin initiation associated with prior history of nonmedical use of prescription opioids. Interactions were estimated between prior history of nonmedical use of prescription opioids and age of nonmedical use of prescription opioid initiation, race/ethnicity, and income. Results A prior history of nonmedical use of prescription opioids was strongly associated with heroin initiation (hazard ratio 13.12, 95% CI 10.73, 16.04). Those initiating nonmedical use of prescription opioids at ages 10-12 years had the highest risk of transitioning to heroin use; the association did not vary by race/ethnicity or income group. Conclusions Prior use of nonmedical use of prescription opioids is a strong predictor of heroin use onset in adolescence and young adulthood, regardless of the user's race/ethnicity or income group. Primary prevention of nonmedical use of prescription opioids in late childhood may prevent the onset of more severe types of drug use such as heroin at later ages. Moreover, because the peak period of heroin initiation occurs at ages 17-18 years, secondary efforts to prevent heroin use may be most effective if they focus on young adolescents who already initiated nonmedical use of prescription opioids.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health