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Abuse of Prescription Pain Medications Risks Heroin Use

NIDA recently challenged the public to create Infographics that present current scientific information about prescription drug abuse in interesting, novel, and creative ways to help inform and educate the general public. We awarded 3 prizes and over the last several months, the other two prize winning graphics have been displayed online. The Third place Infographic, Abuse of Prescription Pain Medications Risks Heroin Use, was awarded to a team from Yale University--Susan Busch, Hongyu Zhang, Stephen McLaughlin, and Rosanna Smith. This graphic highlights the unexpected association of prescription pain reliever abuse and heroin, to generate more public discussion of prescription drug abuse. The Infographic takes the reader through the possible transition of experimenting with non-medical prescription pain relievers through serious heroin-related health consequences, highlighting the close link between prescription drug abuse and more traditional, and perhaps better understood, drugs of abuse.

Infographic - see text below for description

Text Description of Infographic

In 2010 almost 1 in 20 adolescents and adults – 12 million people – used prescription pain medication when it was not prescribed for them or only for the feeling it caused.  While many believe these drugs are not dangerous because they can be prescribed by a doctor, abuse often leads to dependence.  And eventually, for some, pain medication abuse leads to heroin.

Top Figure: 1 in 15 people who take non medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years.

Left  Graph: Number of people who abused or were dependent on pain medications and percentage of them that use heroin.  Pie charts show in 2004 1.4 million people abused or were dependent on pain medications and 5% used heroin. In 2010, 1.9 million people abused or were dependent on pain medications and 14% used heroin.

Right Top Graph:  Heroin users are 3 times as likely to be dependent.  14% of non medical prescription pain reliever users are dependent. Yet, 54% of heroin users are dependent.

Right Bottom Graph:  Heroin emergency room admissions are increasing.  In 2005 there were less than 200,000 emergency room visits related to heroin. By 2011 this number had increased to almost 260,000.

References for Abuse of Prescription Pain Medications Risks Heroin Use

  1. The authors conducted an independent analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2010. The data and materials can be found here: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SAMHDA/series/64
  2. The authors conducted an independent analysis of National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2004- 2010. The data and materials can be found here: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SAMHDA/series/64
  3. Data on the number of people who abused or were dependent on pain medications can be found here: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2011SummNatFindDetTables/NSDUH-DetTabsPDFWHTML2011/2k11DetailedTabs/Web/HTML/NSDUH-DetTabsSect7peTabs1to45-2011.htm#Tab7.40A.  To determine the percentage of people who used heroin among those who abused or were dependent on pain medications the authors conducted an independent analysis of National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2010. The data and materials can be found here: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SAMHDA/series/64
  4. The authors conducted an independent analysis of National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2004- 2010. The data and materials can be found here: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SAMHDA/series/64
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760,DAWN Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.This publication may be downloaded from http://store.samhsa.gov. See Table 9, page 34.

Related Publications

Research Report: Heroin Cover

Heroin (Research Reports)

Published October 1997. Revised February 2014. Offers the latest scientific information on heroin use and its consequences as well as treatment options available for those struggling with heroin addiction.  En Español

Nationwide Trends (DrugFacts)

Published April 2011. Revised January 2014. Examines nationwide trends in drug abuse and addiction among youth, describing lifetime, past year and past month use for alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs. En Español

Heroin (DrugFacts)

Revised April 2013. Offers basic facts about heroin, including how it is abused, its affect on the brain, other health effects, treatment options, and reported use by youth. En Español

Drug-Related Hospital Emergency Room Visits (DrugFacts)

Revised May 2011. Provides national estimates on drug-related visits to hospital emergency departments and makes comparisons with previous years’ data. Discusses illicit drugs, alcohol and other drugs, and prescription drugs. En Español

Treatment Statistics (DrugFacts)

Revised March 2011. Reports data on the number of people in need of drug abuse treatment and characteristics of admissions to and discharges from substance abuse treatment facilities. En Español

This page was last updated January 2014