Teen Heroin Addiction is a Big Problem

Teen heroin addiction is not the first thing most of us call to mind when thinking about heroin. Remember that stereotype of the strung out, skid row addict in a back alley or abandoned apartment? Today, that is not the only heroin user. It is a myth that teens do not use heroin.

Teen heroin addiction is found in urban, suburban and rural areas across the country. It can be your honor roll student, the school’s star athlete or the student who struggles in class. The fact is that teen heroin use is no longer someone else’s problem.

Teens and Heroin Use: 

National data shows that teens in treatment programs for heroin addiction report first using heroin when they were 14.8 years of age. They were typically 16.3 years of age when entering treatment. That is on average almost two years of heroin use before receiving help.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) survey, about 28,000 adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age have used heroin in the past year, including 16,000 who currently used heroin. For young adults (between 18 and 25 years of age), 268,000 young adults across the country have used heroin in the past year with 82,000 currently using heroin.

Teen heroin use might not be prevalent in your community, but the consequences are significant.

There are myths surrounding heroin that teens believe and these myths need to be debunked.

We can’t address the consequences until each of us is aware of the myths that are contributing to the growing use of heroin among young people. These myths are:

  1. Heroin is natural. Many teens think that using heroin is okay because heroin is a natural drug. The truth is that the short term and long term effects are very dangerous. Additionally, street heroin can sometimes be ‘cut’ with other substances including poisons.
  2. Addiction comes from prolonged use. Many teens feel that just trying it once won’t make them addicted. Evidence shows that just one use can lead to addiction.
  3. I can handle it. Many teens think they have it under control and can stop it on their own, which rarely is the case. Most circumstances of heroin addiction are only resolved with medical interventions.
  4. It is only dangerous if is injected. Many teens think that snorting or smoking heroin makes it less dangerous. The fact is heroin is highly addictive, and can be lethal, regardless of how it is taken.
  5. I would never do heroin. Many prescription pain medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet start the cycle of teen heroin addiction. When they become hard to find, heroin is readily available and less expensive.

Being informed is the only way to change the course of teen heroin addiction.

Knowing the facts will help each of us be more aware of the vulnerability of youth to heroin addiction, recognize the signs of heroin use and know how to seek timely help.

Those of us working with youth can start by:

  1. Visiting the National Institute on Drug Abuse website.
  2. Contacting a program that understands the trends and challenges such as YIPA member MN Teen Challenge.
  3. Watching YIPA’s training, Opioid Overdoses and Naloxone.

If you think heroin use couldn’t be a problem for the youth you work with… think again. It’s important you take teen heroin use seriously; it is a matter of life or death.

Paul Meunier is the Executive Director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA)