Opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the rate of opioid overdoses has nearly quadrupled since 1999.
Opioids include prescription painkillers and heroin, which leave approximately 150,000 people dead from related overdoses each year. On a typical day, 3,900 people start non-medical use of prescription opioids, 580 people start using heroin, and 78 people die of opioid overdose.
Despite this, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed each year. Out of the 21.5 million American teenagers and adults who had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million were addicted to prescription pain relievers and 586,000 were addicted to heroin. The number of people addicted to heroin increases alongside the availability of prescription painkillers.
Current Stats On Opioid Abuse And Addiction
Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. greatly increased from 1999 to 2014, but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans report. Around half of these prescriptions come from general physicians, not in relation to surgery or a specific injury.
Around half of adults in the U.S. report using at least one prescription medication in the last 30 days, and more than 10 percent report taking five or more. The number of legitimate prescriptions written for patients in the U.S. has increased the market for prescription painkillers to an astounding $11 billion per year.
Opioid Use Leads To Abuse And Addiction
Opioid-based prescriptions come with the commonly known danger of addiction. Both Vicodin and OxyContin, two of the most common opioid painkillers, were brought to market as non-addictive alternative painkillers. Today’s physicians know this is false, but they are still prescribed in an increasingly pain-averse society.
If a person regularly takes these opioids for chronic pain over a long period of time, chances are he or she will develop physical addiction to the substance. This may lead to increased use and abuse while the prescription lasts. Inevitably, the prescription will run out.
Doctors usually will not prescribe a lifetime of OxyContin to a patient. Even if they have an ongoing prescription, patients may run out of money and turn to a cheaper alternative for an opioid high.
Becoming Addicted To Heroin Through Opioids
The use of prescription painkillers is a common gateway to the use of heroin. The typical American drug addict may start as a result of an innocent visit to the doctor’s office for pain management, or they may begin to self-medicate with prescription painkillers.
When the supply of legally available opioids becomes unavailable – due to being cut off by their physician or simply running out of money – some of those addicts will turn to heroin to fill their needs.
Approximately three out of four new heroin addicts report abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. People who abuse painkillers are 19 times more likely to start using heroin than someone who had not abused opioid painkillers before.
Heroin Is Cheap And Easy To Get
Heroin is the logical place to turn for people who are addicted to opioids but cannot afford prescription painkillers. In a 2014 qualitative study from the Washington University School of Medicine, 54 drug addiction patients reported using heroin as a result of painkiller prescriptions.
OxyContin was cited as the most common opioid painkiller that led to heroin use. The primary reason those interviewed gave for beginning their heroin abuse was the price: One dose of OxyContin costs as much as eight times more than an equivalent dose of heroin.
Heroin is also significantly easier to get. The same test group reported they had immediate access to heroin, but would have to drive an hour or more for methadone or Suboxone treatment, which are two common methods of mitigating heroin addiction.
Additionally, a study done by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania concluded that buying a dose of heroin was both cheaper and easier than purchasing a bottle of wine.
Prescription Painkillers And Heroin Are Similar
Painkilling opioid drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin are FDA-approved and dispensed at local pharmacies. Heroin, however, is a Schedule II illicit substance. On the surface, they couldn’t appear more different. However, they are nearly the same drug.
Both are derived from the same plant – the papaver somniferum, or opium poppy. Both bind to the same receptors in the brain, releasing the same chemicals into the bloodstream and causing similar effects. They even resemble one another on the molecular level.
Ironically, heroin was originally sold as a “non-addictive” substitute for another opiate, morphine, just as OxyContin was once marketed as a “non-addictive” alternative to oxycodone. It is no wonder users would seek an almost identical substance when they lose access to their original.
Today’s Typical User
Who falls victim to opioid abuse? Americans older than 40 are more likely to take opioid painkillers, and women tend to take more prescription painkillers than men. In fact, prescription painkiller overdoses among females have increased more than 40 percent since 1999. Similarly, the number of overdoses has increased by 265 percent among men during that same period.
While death from opioid overdose is more common among men, the issue is a growing concern for women. For a heroin user, the average person first starts at 23 years old, and is likely to be located in affluent areas. These users are usually led to heroin through a legitimate prescription for painkillers.
A heroin or prescription painkiller addict is not someone else in some other community. They’re our neighbors, friends and family. This addiction crosses economic and racial lines. If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, click the button below and contact us today.