A study by the University of Southern California found that teenagers who use opioids recreationally are more likely to become addicted to heroin later in life.

Teen addiction to drugs can have lifelong consequences. A study conducted by the University of Southern California surveyed 14 and 15-year-old high school students who admitted to regular, nonmedical opioid use. Data from students in this study was collected at ten different high schools, and all students reported never having used heroin. Researchers collected data eight times over the course of 42 months. Average statistics gleaned from the 3,298 participants indicated a direct correlation between opioid use in early high school and heroin use later in the teen years and into early adulthood.

Drugs in high school represent a problem for public health. Opioids may be prescribed to teenagers for sports injuries or chronic conditions, which can lead to addiction. Opioids may also be illegally obtained through online sources. Opioids and heroin both create a similar high and stimulate opioid receptors in the brain, which eases pain and creates a sense of euphoria. Drug-related deaths from heroin overdose have been directly tied to changes in opioid prescription availability. Experts suggest that changes in access or use of opioids have been shown to drive people to find and use heroin as an opioid alternative. There is growing evidence that prescription opioid and heroin abuse are interrelated.

Teen Opioid Abuse Statistics

Teen opioid abuse may result from a variety of sources, including legitimate medical prescriptions, access to family prescriptions and illegal procurement. Adolescents are skilled at finding drugs on the internet and may be able to obtain numerous drugs without parents or adults knowing. When experimentation leads to addiction, teens are in danger of creating long-term habits.

The adolescent brain is often incapable of predicting consequences. Opioid abuse statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services indicate that, in 2016, 3.6% of teenagers between the age of 12-17 report misusing opioids over the previous year. In 2015, over 4,000 teens between the ages of 15–24 died of a drug overdose, half of which were due to opioid use.

The Journal of the American Medical Association for Pediatrics states that parents should be mindful about the correct disposal of all opioid medications that may be present in the home and accessible to their teenagers.

Teen Heroin Use Statistics

Heroin use among teens is a serious concern for many reasons. Heroin is highly addictive and seriously impacts the body’s normal functions. Heroin is an opiate that is often cheaper and more accessible than prescription opioids.

Teen heroin statistics estimate how many teens use heroin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2015, drug overdose deaths among teens between the ages of 15 and 19 were the highest for heroin use. With addiction and accidental death by overdose numbers escalating, it is important to understand the issues that underlie teen drug use.

Teen Opioid Abuse Can Lead to Heroin Use

The study by the University of Southern California concluded that teenagers who used opioids at the age of 14 or 15 were up to 13.1% more likely to use heroin later in life. It’s clear that teen prescription drug abuse can lead to teen heroin use. Knowing that opioids lead to heroin, parents, educators and public health providers have an opportunity to preempt future addiction by bolstering prevention services. Multiple resources are available for parents to talk to their teens about drugs. It is important to monitor and secure all prescription drugs in a home as well as to provide transparent communication about the dangers of recreational drug use.

If you suspect that your teen is abusing drugs or struggling with addiction, it is never too soon to seek help. Reach out to The Recovery Village today for more information.

a woman wearing glasses and smiling for the camera.
By – Joy Youell
Joy Youell is a writer and content developer with a background in educational research. Using sound pedagogical approaches and expert-backed methods, Joy has designed and delivered adult learning content, professional development, and company training materials for organizations. Read more
a woman is standing with her arms crossed.
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drug Overdose Deaths Among Adolescents A[…] States: 1999–2015.” August 2017. Accessed July 27, 2019.

The Department of Health and Human Services. “Opioids and Adolescents.” Accessed July 27, 2019.

Moreno, Megan A., et al. “Adolescent Opioid Abuse.” 2012. Accessed July 27, 2019.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: Health and Medicine Division. “Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic:[…]scription Opioid Use.” July 13, 2017. Accessed July 27, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Rise in Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Impacting Teens.” May 2, 2019. Accessed July 27, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.