The Link Between Opioid Addiction and Heroin

Addiction is regarded as cunning, baffling, and powerful. Anyone who has loved an addict or has been in the grips of addiction themselves would agree. One of the most devastating addictions, addiction to opioids, is on the rise, and the statistics are alarming. Overdose rates and deaths have been on the rise and are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the US. Of 47,055 overdose deaths in 2014, 18,893 were related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 were related to heroin. Overdose deaths among women have tripled in the last few years (American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2016).

Opioids are prescribed to treat pain; they include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and related drugs (NIDA, 2014). Commonly, opioids become a gateway into other opioid use, most commonly heroin. Heroin is synthesized from morphine. Four out of five heroin addicts reported previous painkiller abuse, and 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids in 2012. That is enough prescriptions to give every American adult their own bottle, and then some (American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2016).

How did we get to this point? Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, talks about the introduction of pill mills and the devastating effects they have had. Pill mills are places where doctors prescribe pain medications for cash with no pain-related diagnosis necessary. Millions of people get addicted to pain medication through pill mills. They provide easy access to prescription opioids. The problem with pill mills is that doctors will cancel prescriptions, or run out of medication, leaving those addicted in limbo. Prescription opioids are very similar to heroin on a molecular level, and they also have similar effects. When these addicts can no longer get the prescription medication that they’ve come to depend on, many turn to heroin.

One of the problems with heroin is that it lacks the predictability of prescription opioids. It varies in strength, and a user can overdose from taking a dose that they are used to ingesting. There is also always a chance of the heroin being laced with other drugs since the FDA doesn’t monitor production.

Where do we go from here? How do we begin to solve an epidemic that was created by doctors and has left so many in the throes of addiction? There are many different approaches and treatment options available to help those suffering from addiction to break the cycle. Statistics are in favor of long-term treatment. For treatment centers, this usually means 90 days or more. Addiction is complex, and treating it is no easy feat. It is a chronic disease and one that has many layers to it. It helps to think of addiction as being like an onion. The first layer you need to remove is the substance of choice. Underneath that layer is all of the things that fed the addiction. Long-term treatment is beneficial because the addict is able to peel away more than just the first layer.

Education and prevention are also important in solving this epidemic, especially for adolescents and their families. Knowing the warning signs, and being able to get yourself or your loved one help is invaluable. You do not have to lose everything before taking the first step to getting better.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, we are here to help. Feinberg Consulting fosters long-term sobriety through the use of case management, recovery coaching, and family coaching. Call us at 877.538.5425 for a confidential conversation with our team of professionals.

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