How is Prescription Drug Abuse Linked to Heroin Use?

How is Prescription Drug use Linked to Heroin Abuse

Every 19 minutes someone dies of a prescription overdose. It has been noted that unintentional poisoning deaths from prescription opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2010 and now outnumber those from cocaine and heroin combined. Even more concerning is the fact that many people who are hooked on pain meds are now turning to heroin as a cheaper alternative. So how is prescription drug abuse linked to heroin use?

  • More than 80 percent of the people who enter treatment for heroin addiction began abusing opioids in the 1960s.
  • Seventy five percent of the people who began using opioids in the 2000’s reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug.
  • Examining the general population heroin data at the national level (including those in and not in treatment), nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.

While heroin is illicit and opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin are FDA-approved, each is derived from the poppy plant. Their chemical structures are similar, and they bind to the same group of receptors in the brain. (A few opioids, like fentanyl, are totally synthetic but designed to bind with those same receptors). In any case, the various drugs produce the same result.

The Face of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addicts are usually depicted as poor, homeless and lazy, but you may surprised to know that the average heroin user generally starts taking this drug around the age of 23. They are also more likely to live in the affluent suburbs, and many time are unwittingly led to heroin through painkillers prescribed by their doctor.

Other common demographics of heroin users include:

  • 18 to 25-year-olds
  • People who are addicted to marijuana and alcohol
  • People living in a large metropolitan area
  • People who are addicted to cocaine
  • People without insurance or enrolled in Medicaid
  • Non-Hispanic whites
  • Males

What are the Effects of Opioid Use?

In 2015, more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Both medical and physical complications that arise from opioid abuse include blood-borne pathogenic diseases such as HIV, and Hepatitis. Further, due to intravenous use, users are likely to develop collapsed veins, bacterial infections, abscesses, as well as infection of the heart lining and valves. The physical effects are not limited to the blood. Opioid addiction may contribute to arthritis and other various rheumatologic issues. Finally, kidney and liver disease is prevalent.

Some of the effects that have been identified include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling a “rush”
  • Suppression of pain
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Depressed respiration
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence

Opioid Overdose Deaths

From 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people have died in the U.S. due to prescription opioid-related overdoses. Those with the highest overdose rates are individuals in the age range of 25 to 54. These overdoses were also higher among non-Hispanic whites and American Indian or Alaskan Natives. Finally, research suggests that males were more likely to die from overdose. Unfortunately, it has been further discovered that the gap between men and women is closing.

Getting Help for Opioid Addiction

Breaking an addiction to opioid painkillers or heroin is extremely difficult without the help of addiction treatment specialists. You should never attempt to detox from these drugs cold turkey as this can produce some serious, and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. In order to effectively address the underlying causes of your addiction, and learn new and healthier ways of coping, you need the help of a certified drug rehab facility. At Get Treatment, we can help you find a top-ranked opioid addiction treatment program where you can begin your journey to life-long recovery. Dial 855-638-9268 to speak to one of our caring admissions specialists.

Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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