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A new study suggests that abuse of prescription opioids may be a first step on the path toward misuse of heroin and other injected drugs.

Science Daily reports that the researchers found four out of five injection drug users misused an opioid drug before they injected heroin. They also found that almost one out of four young injection drug users first injected a prescription opioid, and most later switched to injecting heroin.

The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, found that risk factors for misusing opioid drugs include family history of drug misuse, and a past history of receiving prescriptions for opioids.

“Participants were commonly raised in households where misuse of prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol, was normalized,” lead researcher Dr. Stephen Lankenau, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, said in a news release. “Access to prescription medications – either from a participant’s own source, a family member, or a friend – was a key feature of initiation into prescription drug misuse.”

The study included 50 injection drug users between the ages of 16 to 25. They had all misused a prescription drug at least three times in the past three months. Nearly three-fourths of participants had been prescribed an opioid, often for dental procedures or sports injuries. Most had family members who misused one or more substances. The authors called on parents to carefully monitor and safeguard prescription drugs, especially opioids, in their home.


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