The New Face of Heroin

Blog · Jan 09, 2015

Think of Vermont, and you most likely conjure images of mountains ablaze with russet foliage and roads meandering through quaint covered bridges. You might not suspect this pastoral state has an escalating heroin epidemic. But early this year, Rolling Stone highlighted a story of a Vermont teen whose OxyContin abuse led to heroin addiction.

Teens and young adults are increasingly exposed to heroin in places few of us would expect. In less than a decade, the demographic of heroin users has dramatically shifted. What once was considered an inner-city street drug can now be found in the heart of suburban households. Recently, a front page article in The New York Times featured a story about a Staten Island mom who over a four month period spiraled into a life of using and dealing heroin that ended in her arrest. The home she and her family once shared quickly became a den for drug users and dealers.

Why this surge in heroin use and the change in demographic?  A recently published article in The Economist identifies a direct correlation between prescription medication abuse and heroin use. The causal link between these two drugs is not obvious on its face but easy to see after examining how these drugs are related. The rise in prescribed pain medications has led to an increase in opioid addictions. Effective measures to control access to prescription pain medications have driven addicted users to the next affordable source for their high. Street heroin is as plentiful and cheap as it ever was. This revelation reminds us to consider efforts to prevent substance use in the first place.

People young and old carry misperceptions of the strength of prescription medications and the negative effects of their abuse.  The implied safety of a doctor’s prescription suggest pills and other medications are a safer risk than street drugs like heroin or methamphetamine.  What may begin as legitimate treatment for illness or injury may turn into addiction as a result of decisions made without considering consequences.

But what preventive measures can we take to navigate children and teens away from the abuse of prescription medications?  The root problem lies much deeper than simply targeting individual drugs. Research has shown that children at high risk of substance abuse benefit from prevention education strategies that build social and emotional skills.

Responsible decision-making skills give children the ability to consider the consequences of the choices they face.  Effective communication skills together with practical and effective refusal strategies embolden children and teens to refuse negative pressure from their peers.  Adding an awareness of the harm of abusing substances effectively builds for children and teens a solid foundation to meet the challenges of life and make healthy choices along the way.

Prescription Medication Abuse, Social Emotional Learning, Substance Abuse Prevention

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