Hinsdale, Ill. — Researchers found Chicago area suburban heroin users have little knowledge about the drug and its effects when they first use it, and they often substitute heroin after becoming addicted to prescription pain medications. Those are some of the conclusions from a 10-month study, entitled "Understanding Suburban Heroin Use," for the Robert Crown Center for Health Education's Reed Hruby Heroin Prevention Project.
The research team from Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy conducted in-depth, confidential interviews with 15 current and former young heroin users, ages 22 to 31 years old, from Chicago's western suburbs. Respondents from western Cook, DuPage and Will counties discussed how they began using heroin and what they knew about heroin when they first tried the drug. Results indicate young, suburban heroin users believed when they "snorted or sniffed" heroin they were less likely to become addicted. Nearly two-thirds of the study respondents said they turned to heroin after first using prescription pain medications, or as a way to "come down" from cocaine use. Co-authors Kathie Kane-Willis and Stephanie Schmitz screened more than 50 candidates and developed a sample of 15 heroin users for more extensive questioning.
They also conducted focus groups with 28 young suburban participants who had been involved with drugs in high school, and surveyed more than 100 suburban parents, in an effort to paint a picture of Chicago-area suburban heroin users.
According to the report, the heroin-involved interviewees reported they initiated to the drug in one of three ways.
- They had first taken and often became dependent on pain pills (Oxycontin or Vicodin) before they transitioned to heroin.
- They were cocaine users and tried heroin to help them "come down" or sleep after a cocaine binge.
- They tried heroin after experimenting with many other drugs.
Researchers found that for some, heroin use started early. Twenty percent of the group reported their first heroin use at age 15, though the average age of first use was 18. The majority of the interviewees reported little or no knowledge about heroin dependence or the withdrawal syndrome associated with it. More than 75 percent of respondents either self-reported or exhibited signs of a co-occurring mental health condition during the interview process including depression, anxiety, ADHD or bipolar disorder.
In addition, among the 105 suburban parents who were surveyed for the study, nearly 50 percent said they did not know where to go to get accurate drug information. Robert Crown Center CEO Kathleen Burke commented, "The message here is that educators, parents and other influencers must paint an accurate and authentic picture of the risks and harm associated with heroin in order to reach youth. Families need more information to create open lines of communication, so that young people have a safe place to talk about their problems and pain without turning to heroin."