Research has shown that brain development continues into a person’s 20s—a time that encompasses many important developmental and social changes in a young person’s life. Yet important questions remain about the factors that influence brain development and their impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, and academic trajectories.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study is the largest long-term study of brain and cognitive development in children across the United States. Findings from the ABCD Study will greatly increase our understanding of environmental, social, and genetic factors that affect brain and cognitive development and that can enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory. Read more about the ABCD Study.

Adolescent Brain

What is heroin?

heroin powder

Also known as: Black tar, Brown sugar, China white, H, Horse, Junk, Ska, Skunk, Smack, and White Horse.

Heroin is a very addictive drug made from morphine, a psychoactive (mind-altering) substance taken from the resin of the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Heroin’s color and look depend on how it is made and what else it may be mixed with. It can be white or brown powder, or a black, sticky substance called “black tar heroin.”

Heroin is part of a class of drugs called opioids. Other opioids include some prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), and hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin).

Heroin use and overdose deaths have dramatically increased over the last decade. This increase is related to the growing number of people misusing prescription opioid pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Some people who become addicted to those drugs switch to heroin because it produces similar effects but is cheaper and easier to get.

In fact, most people who use heroin report they first misused prescription opioids, but it is a small percentage of people who switch to heroin. The numbers of people misusing prescription drugs is so high, that even a small percentage translates to hundreds of thousands of heroin users.1 Even so, some research suggests about one-third of heroin users in treatment simply started with heroin. Maybe they were mistakenly told that only one use cannot lead to addiction. Both heroin and opioid pill use can lead to addiction and overdose.

How Heroin is Used

Heroin is mixed with water and injected with a needle. It can also be sniffed, smoked, or snorted. People who use heroin sometimes combine it with other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine (a “speedball”), which can be particularly dangerous and raise the risk of overdose.

To learn more about the different types of opioids, visit our Prescription Opioids Drug Facts page.

1 Compton WM, Jones CM, Baldwin GT. Relationship between nonmedical prescription-opioid use and heroin use. The New England Journal of Medicine 2016;374:154-163.


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Parenting programs lead to healthier behaviors

A study conducted among 517 youth in the rural areas of the southeastern United States demonstrates the effectiveness of a parenting enhancement program in both preventing drug use and obesity, two potentially life-threatening conditions for which people living in disadvantaged communities are at an elevated risk.

Previous research identified protective caregiving practices in rural African American families that promoted healthy social and emotional development. These practices, which involve positive parent-child relationships, routinized and predictable home environments, consistent discipline, and non-harsh parenting practices, nurtured the development of self-regulation and achievement goals, and inhibited drug use and other risk behaviors within these communities. In a new study, parents and their 11-year-old children were assigned randomly to a control program or to the Strong African American Families (SAAF) prevention program, which employed these practices. SAAF families participated in separate parent, youth, and family skills-building curriculums and had the opportunity to practice the techniques they were learning over a series of training sessions. Data looking at neighborhood socioeconomic status and supportive parenting were collected when the youth were 11 and 16 years of age. When the youth were aged 19-21 and 25, drug use and Body Mass Index (BMI) were measured.

Researchers found that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood was associated with drug use among young men in the control group, but not in the SAAF group. In young women, BMI was higher in the control group than in the group assigned to the SAAF program. The findings suggest the importance of parenting enhancement programs as a tool for healthier outcomes in youth. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as well as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.