Prescription Opioids And Heroin Use: Is There A Link?

Prescription opioid use – even short-term use – can result in opioid dependence and addiction. Unfortunately, prescription opioid addiction can ultimately lead individuals down the path of using harder opioids like heroin as their addiction progresses. Understanding the link between prescription opioids and heroin use can ultimately help prevent dependence and addiction.

Prescription Opioids And Heroin Use

The opioid epidemic that has swept the nation has people more cautious of opioid drugs than ever before. Unfortunately, prescription opioids are still being prescribed at higher rates than ever before, which only increases the risk of dependence, addiction, and death. In fact, opioids are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the United States.

To make matters worse, people who become addicted to opioid prescriptions are more likely to turn to street opioids like heroin when prescription pain killers are no longer available. Studies have shown that nearly 75 percent of people entering treatment for heroin addiction began by using prescription opioids. What’s more, nearly 80 percent of people who use heroin both in treatment and not in treatment used prescription pain killers prior to turning to heroin.

These statistics are alarming and show just how closely linked prescription opioids and heroin are. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse, seeking treatment is the best way to prevent full-blown addiction. Addiction Campuses has several treatment facilities throughout the United States aimed at helping individuals overcome addiction through individualized plans of recovery.

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The Danger Of Prescription Opioids

In 1995, the prescription painkiller Oxycontin was introduced as an effective and long-term treatment option for managing pain. This drug, which was manufactured by Purdue Pharma, played a significant role in the dramatic increase in both prescription and nonprescription opioid use and abuse that would only rise over the coming years.

What wasn’t known then – but is certainly known now – is that opioids are highly addictive and come with a significant potential for abuse and dependence. Anyone who takes opioids can fall prey to the addictive nature of these drugs. While personal factors certainly play a role in who will or won’t become addicted, there is no way to know an individual’s likelihood of abuse and dependence on opioids.

Opioids are so addictive because of how they work in the brain. This class of drugs binds to opioid receptors in the brain and changes how a person perceives pain. While this effectively reduces pain – especially chronic and hard-to-manage pain – it also directly affects the reward center in the brain by flooding the brain with dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters elicit feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and an overall sense of wellbeing. The more opioids a person takes, the more intense these euphoric feelings are.

People who take prescription opioids may begin to look forward to these feel-good sensations brought on by the drug. Unfortunately, tolerance can quickly be built up, meaning that more of the opioid is needed to get the same effect. This often leads people to increase their dosage, which is a dangerous step in the direction of dependence and addiction.

When someone continues to increase the dosage of a prescription painkiller, he or she will likely become dependent on the drug fairly quickly. This means that the opioid is needed for the person to feel “normal.” As the dependence escalates, full-blown addiction often sets in and leads individuals to consume large amounts of prescription opioids in an attempt to achieve the same high they felt initially.

From Prescription Painkillers To Heroin

When a person is addicted to prescription painkillers, he or she will likely begin to consume the prescription much faster than before. This can result in running out of the prescription early, which means the person will either have to face withdrawal symptoms or find a new source of the drug. While some people may try to get more opioids by “doctor shopping” or stealing prescriptions from friends or family, others may turn to cheaper and stronger opioids like heroin.

According to the Partnership for Drug-free Kids, four out of five people who use heroin initially began by abusing prescription opioids. Heroin is often much cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids, making it a viable option for people who are already addicted to prescription painkillers. Even people who never imagined they would one day use heroin may find themselves buying and ingesting this dangerous drug.

Risk Factors For Opioid Addiction

Taking more than what is prescribed or taking prescription opioids in a way other than what is prescribed (such as snorting or injecting) can greatly increase a person’s risk of addiction. Using opioids for an extended period of time can also cause opioid dependence and addiction. In fact, the odds of long-term opioid use increases after only five days of taking these drugs.

Other risk factors that may contribute to opioid addiction include:

  • having a family history of addiction
  • being exposed early on to drug abuse and/or addiction
  • poverty
  • a personal history of drug abuse or addiction
  • history of mental illness
  • certain stressors such as trauma and loss
  • regular exposure to other people who abuse drugs
  • using opioids at a young age
  • unemployment
  • heavy tobacco consumption

Additionally, women are more likely than men to become addicted to opioids. This may be due to the fact that women are more likely to be prescribed opioids in higher doses and to take opioids for longer periods of time.

Getting Help For Opioid Abuse And Addiction

Opioid addiction can quickly consume a person’s life and dramatically increases the risk of chronic health conditions and even death. Seeking treatment for opioid abuse or addiction is the best decision you can make to recover from opioid dependence. Addiction Campuses offers evidence-based addiction treatment programs that are customized to meet each patient’s needs and our state-of-the-art rehab facilities provide a healing and comfortable environment in which to recover.

It’s never too late to reclaim your life from addiction. To learn more about the link between prescription opioids and heroin use, contact an Addiction Campuses treatment specialist today.

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-opioid-addiction-occurs/art-20360372

Partnership for Drug-free Kids - https://drugfree.org/article/rx-to-heroin/

Annual Reviews of Public Health - https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122957

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use

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