Nearly Half Of Heroin Addicts Were Initially Prescription Medication Abusers

By McCarton Ackerman 07/30/15

Heroin overdose deaths have also quadrupled in the last decade.

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Because heroin is seen by many addicts as a cheaper and longer-lasting alternative to prescription painkillers, it’s little surprise that a new study has found that 45% of heroin addicts were initially addicted to prescription medication.

The findings were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also noted earlier this year heroin-overdose deaths have quadrupled in the last decade, with more than 8,000 people now dying annually. Separate national statistics show that heroin use has doubled among those ages 18 to 25, while more people across the country at all ages and socioeconomic levels are using the drug.

“Part of the problem is the medical field prescribing these opioid pain relievers and patients have gone on to have addiction and abuse behaviors," said Department of Emergency Medicine Carolinas Medical Center assistant professor Christopher Griggs. “Over time the high goes away. Abusers tend to keep using so that they avoid withdrawal symptoms, even though it doesn't make them feel good anymore."

The number of prescriptions written for prescription opiate painkillers has tripled over the last year, with 259 million written in 2012 alone and that number continuing to rise. Ironically, even the doctors writing the prescriptions are aware of the problem at hand. A national poll from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 85% of doctors believe opiate-based painkillers are overused.

Some states are now taking action to ensure that prescription medication use doesn’t morph into heroin addiction. New Jersey put forth a patient notification bill which requires doctors and other prescribers to discuss potential addiction risks of these drugs before writing a prescription for any patient. It received bipartisan support and easily passed the state Senate last year, but Assembly Health Committee Chair Herb Conaway inexplicably has yet to put the measure up for a committee vote.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.