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Teen Heroin Use
Although heroin use by teens is much less than their misuse of prescription drugs and alcohol use, it is still important to be aware of. This article discusses statistics on teen heroin use, as well as effects, warning signs, and treatment for teen heroin use.
Heroin - What It Is
Heroin is an illegal (Schedule 1) narcotic, meaning it has no currently accepted use in medical treatment, is illegal, and has a high risk of abuse. It is related the the prescription medications called codeine, morphine, Oxycontin, and Vicodin. Heroin is a morphine derivative, stronger than its source, and is semisynthetic. If heroin is not available, a user may substitute one of the other related drugs. Heroin is physically addictive.
Teen Heroin Use Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in February 2011 that in 1999 through 2007, unintentional death from heroin use was almost flat (although deaths from cocaine use and opioid analgesics were rising overall, which seemed to indicate heroin use that was not increasing. In addition, the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS) from the CDC report shows that lifetime heroin use (at least 1 time) was at 1.7 percent for girls and 3.2 percent for boys, less than meth use (3.3/4.7 for boys and girls respectively), cocaine use (5.3/7.3), notably less than prescription drug abuse (19.8/20.4) or marijuana use (34.3/39.0), and dramatically less than alcohol use (74.2/70.8).
But CBS reported in 2009 that heroin abuse among teens is on the rise. The CBS report points to its relative cheapness as a factor in its increased use and its greater purity (which makes it more powerful) as a factor in the deaths it causes. They also point to a trend towards younger users, stating that in an unidentified survey, more 8th graders than 12 graders had tried heroin within the past 12 months.
The CBS report may be supported by the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Administration), which states that significantly more people tried heroin for the first time in 2009 than from 2002 to 2008 (without identifying their age). However, the SAMHSA data shows that heroin is highly unlikely to be the first illicit drug used by those over age 12 who have used illicit drugs, accounting for less than a tenth of a percent of first time uses (marijuana accounted for 59.1%).
Teen Heroin Use Effects
Especially because of the increased purity, overdose is not uncommon, and can be fatal. For those who live to go on using, heroin is addictive, and any method of use may lead to addiction in nearly a quarter of users, but other effects of heroin partly depend on how it is used. Heroin may be injected, smoked, or inhaled through the nose. Injecting heroin can lead to Hepatitis C or HIV and - among chronic users - lead to collapsed veins, heart infections, and problems with the kidneys and liver. For the chronic user, withdrawal may be severe and the accompanying cravings may be dramatic. While for most people withdrawal takes days, for some, the symptoms may last for months, and cravings may persist for years.
Some users combine heroin with other drugs, especially cocaine, and this can result in other effects.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported in 1977 (and there is no particular reason to doubt that remains true), that the addictive power of heroin and its use among those in their teens and early 20s often leads to an end to their education and delays their entry into work, marriage, higher education, entering the military, and other activities that their peers are undertaking - accomplishments that are, the study points out, difficult to "make up" later, thus creating a wide range of long-term effects.
Teen Heroin Use Warning Signs
Those who are addicted to heroin may need to have frequent access to it (three times a day is typical), so they may make excuses for having to be by themselves frequently. After a dose, they may show signs of sedation, such as a slowed, shuffling gait or nodding off. They may need extra money to support their habit. If they do not or are unable to continue use, they may exhibit heroin withdrawal symptoms, including severe stomach aches, muscle cramps, and other symptoms that are similar to the flu. Since contaminated syringes can lead to Hepatitis C or HIV, is injection is the method of use, symptoms of these two illnesses may also be seen.
Teen Heroin Use Treatment
The treatment for teen heroin use incudes assistance with withdrawal as well as treatment for the addiction. Treatment may involve initial residency at a detox center, but following this, either a residential program or outpatient treatment may be appropriate. A variety of medications may be used (such as antidepressants, on the one hand, and methadone, suboxone, or buprenorphine, on the other), as well as therapy, for example Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step approaches, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and/or contingency management therapy.
Although there are not statistics, research has shown that drug abuse in teens may be linked to depression, and experts suggest that any teen treated for substance abuse be screened for depression and treated for it concomitantly if necessary.
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