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A new government report finds a link between prescription drug abuse and an increased risk of heroin use. Americans ages 12 to 49 who illegally use prescription drugs are 19 times more likely than others in their age group to begin using heroin, the report found.

HealthDay reports almost 80 percent of people who recently started to use heroin said they had previously used prescription painkillers illegally. Overall, the risk of switching from prescription painkillers to heroin is relatively small. Only 3.6 percent of people who had used prescription painkillers illegally started using heroin within five years, according to the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“Prescription pain relievers, when used properly for their intended purpose, can be of enormous benefit to patients, but their nonmedical use can lead to addiction, serious physical harm and even death,” Dr. Peter Delany, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, said in a news release. “This report shows that it can also greatly increase an individual’s risk of turning to heroin use — thus adding a new dimension of potential harm.”

The number of Americans who said they used heroin in the past year increased from 373,000 in 2007, to 669,000 in 2012, according to a report released Wednesday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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