Heroin Prevention Program Research and Evaluation

The Robert Crown Center Heroin Prevention Program focuses on primary prevention, providing middle school and high school students, their parents and school staff with the scientific and social/emotional learning content to understand the risk of drug use, specifically targeting prescription pain medication and heroin.

Original Research

The Robert Crown Center for Health Education (RCC), in partnership with the Reed Hruby Foundation, commissioned original research conducted by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy which provides the basis for RCC’s heroin prevention education.

Research Report: Understanding Suburban Heroin Use - Complete Report
Research Executive Summary: Understanding Suburban Heroin Use - Executive Summary Only

Formative Evaluation

The evaluation was designed to determine the integrity of implementation of the program and to assess outcomes for students, parents and educators. During the 2012-2013 school year Robert Crown Center’s new heroin prevention program was piloted and evaluated in 11 high schools and middle schools in Cook, DuPage, Will and Lake Counties reaching over 7,000 students, 1,400 school staff members, and 400 parents.

Complete Evaluation Report
Evaluation Executive Summary

Summative Evaluation

During the 2013-2014 school year, a sampling of 13 teachers participated in the study and delivered the program to approximately 850 students (8th graders and 10th graders). The evaluation examined student responses pre- and post-program implementation and teacher fidelity of implementation.

Complete Evaluation Report
Evaluation Executive Summary

Continued Evaluation

In spring 2015, a sample of middle and high school students’ pre and post-program surveys and teacher implementation in new schools in which the program was implemented were studied.

Middle School Brief
High School Brief
Evaluation Executive Summary


What the Heroin Prevention research found*:

  • More than one third of the research sample began using heroin while they were in high school; those who used in high school were from all socioeconomic groups.
  • There is a substantial lack of knowledge about the relationship between subscription pain pill abuse and heroin use.
  • The majority of heroin interviewees had little or no education regarding heroin use and dependency.
  • There is a substantial lack of awareness among parents, schools, and the community at large that youth heroin use is a problem in suburban counties.
  • There is a substantial lack of understanding about how heroin affects the body, the rapid progression from experimentation to dependence.
  • All of the interviewees first initiated use of heroin by inhalation, commonly known as “snorting” or “sniffing” heroin. Most thought that heroin inhalation was less addictive or not at all addictive.
  • Most reported that their heroin use provided some relief from anxiety, worries or problems.
  • Many who used heroin became addicted quickly after initiation but dependency was generally pointed out by another person.
  • Interviewees thought the withdrawal symptoms indicated they had the flu or some other illness.
  • Several of the interviewees had been hospitalized for a serious event related to drug use including endocarditis, abscesses at the injection site, cellulitis and other infections.
  • About one third of the sample experienced at least one overdose. While much of the attention in on fatal overdoses, non-fatal overdoses are also problematic because the lack of oxygen may cause significant brain injuries.
  • Many left educational programs due to heroin dependency.
  • Many experienced periods of homelessness due to their drug use.
  • Several interviewees indicated that heroin seems like a cheap high at first, but as tolerance develops, the costs become staggering.
  • About 75% of the research interviewees committed some type of theft to fund their use, including theft from parents, shoplifting, and burglaries.
  • More than 70% of the sample reported an arrest after becoming dependent on heroin.

What the Heroin Prevention research participants had to say*: 

  • “I was not a big risk taker as a kid. They can’t picture me using heroin. My mom was putting ribbons in my hair in fifth grade and curling my hair.”
  • “I thought I was smart enough that I was not going to let myself become ‘that guy.’ I was just going to try it and then walk away. It" doesn’t matter if you are a boy or girl, short or tall, black or white. Your chances of just walking away – it’s not going to work.”
  • “I didn’t use heroin first – I broke my foot and I was out of pain in like 2 weeks, but he (the doctor) kept me on Vicodin for 8 months. I kept calling for refills and he kept giving them to me. I didn’t know it was addicting. I figured it was safe because it was from a doctor and he kept giving it to me.”
  • “When I was 12, my mom had 3 bottles of pain pills left over and I took them all. I took them while I was drinking because that is what my sister’s friend told me to do.”
  • “My older sister’s friend – the one that told me to take the pills – died of an overdose to heroin.”
  • “The people that I knew in high school that used heroin all got addicted.”
  • “I overdosed. She didn’t take me to the hospital. She kept me in the car. She waited in the back of the hospital parking lot and my pulse was really weak and then it stopped and she was going to take me in, but it came back. And I came to.”
  • “School started out as important to me and then it was school and drugs and then just drugs.”
  • “My folks never checked my eyes, searched my room. Nothing. My folks thought it was a onetime thing. I don’t think that they thought I would do it again. I thought that I hid it well.”
  • “In junior high I always wanted to be popular. I was a cheerleader and I had friends and I always wanted to be accepted and I kinda wasn’t.”
  • “And then there was the day that it clicked that we were using, and got sick when we didn’t use one day. And I lost my job and then we had no money and we couldn’t use and then we got really sick and we were like ‘oh, we gotta do anything we can to get it’ and we didn’t know we were sick from the heroin. “
  • “I stole from my house and we broke into a house. I feel horrible to this day that I did that but in the moment, I didn’t care. I needed to do what I did to get the heroin.”
  • “Heroin made me feel real mellow like I had not a care in the world. I had a lot of ‘what am I doing with my life’ and physical pain that I was covering up.”
  • “I use heroin because it numbs me to pain – bigger pain. It does not make me worry about injustice in the world.”
  • “If I knew about withdrawal, I would not have done it. If I knew, I would never have used. If they could show people this, what it is like – I think people might not use.”

*All the research participants had a history of heroin use.
Source: RCC Reed Hruby Heroin Prevention Project/IL Consortium on Drug Policy

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