Master's Project Title:

A Qualitative Study of Adolescent and Young Adult Heroin Addiction

MCH Student:

Kris Matson, MD

Date of Defense:

August 31, 2011


Objective:  to better understand heroin addiction and develop successful treatment interventions by sharing the life experience of heroin addiction.

Methods:  In this qualitative study, five former heroin addicts, males ages 18-28 were chosen to mirror the typical heroin overdose victim in their community.  All were patients at an outpatient clinic and were treated with Buprenorphine/Naloxone at the time of the interview. Each patient was presented with two requests:  “Tell me the story of how you started using heroin” and “Tell me the story of how you decided to seek treatment for heroin addiction.”

Results:  Common themes emerged:  the powerfully addictive feeling of getting “high”; a common history of drug use; and family and peers who modeled substance abuse.  Participants did poorly academically and had been diagnosed with a learning disorder during childhood, most often attention deficit disorder.  Participants took oral opiates before snorting and injecting opiates and had failed previous treatment attempts.  The overdose death of a friend or a near death experience of the participants did not deter continued heroin use.

Conclusion:  This study provides a uniquely intimate view of the development of heroin addiction and the decision to seek treatment.  Physicians need to understand their role in “doctor assisted addiction.”  Parents should reflect on substance use modeled by family members.  School authorities must provide identification of learning disorders.  All care-givers must identify factors that lead to seeking treatment and the efficacy of treatment options in their community.