Three-quarters of U.S. high school students who use heroin first tried narcotic painkillers, a new survey reveals.
Survey results from nearly 68,000 high school seniors provide some clues to heroin's recent deadly path from the inner city into affluent suburbs and rural communities.
"The more times a teen uses non-prescribed painkiller pills, the greater the risk he or she is at for becoming dependent on the drug," said lead researcher Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor of population health at New York University.
"People who become dependent on painkiller pills often wind up resorting to heroin use because it's cheaper and more available than these pills," Palamar explained.
And white students appear more likely than blacks or Hispanics to travel this route, the research suggests.
More than 12 percent of the high school seniors reported using narcotic painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. And 1.2 percent reported using heroin, the researchers said.
Recent and frequent nonmedical painkiller use increased the odds that kids had tried heroin: More than 77 percent of teens who reported using heroin had also used narcotic painkillers, also called opioids, Palamar said.