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HealthDay News -- The rate of heroin initiation is much higher among those who have previously used pain relievers for nonmedical reasons, although only a small percentage actually progress to heroin use, results of a nationally representative study indicate.
Heroin use was 19 times higher in these individuals compared with people who had not previously taken pain relievers for nonmedical reasons (0.39 vs. 0.02), Pradip K. Muhuri, PhD, of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported in a Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality Data Review.
Nonmedical prescription pain reliever use is a major U.S. public health problem, resulted in increasing numbers of emergency department visits, treatment admissions and fatal overdoses. An estimated 25 million Americans aged 12 years and older reported having used pain pills recreationally from 2001 to 2011.
To better understand the role of pain reliever use for nonmedical reasons in heroin initiation, Muhuri and colleagues analyzed combined data from the 2002-2004 and 2008-2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
For those who reported prior heroin use, the incidence rate for recent nonmedical pain pill use was almost two-fold higher than for those not reporting prior heroin use (2.8% vs. 1.6%), the researchers found.
Most heroin initiates (79.5%) previously used nonmedical pain relievers, whereas prior heroin use was reported by only 1.0% of pain pill users. However, overall only 3.6% of those who initiated nonmedical pain reliever use progressed to heroin within five years of first.
"The study contributes important new data to improve understanding of the role of prior NMPR use in initiation of heroin use in the U.S. general population," the researchers wrote. "It appears that there are many unique pathways leading to non-medical pain reliever use, and many of those do not involve heroin as a developmental precursor, or milestone, on the career trajectory of an illicit drug user."