Prescription painkillers lead to heroin use

Toxic

Warning: you may be prescribed these drugs that are killing you…

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Over the past five years alone, heroin deaths have increased by 45 percent–an increase that officials blame on the rise of addictive prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, and Fentora, all of which are opioids (derivatives of opium).

Prescription painkillers were responsible for 16,600 deaths that year, and heroin was involved in about 3,000 deaths. (Meanwhile, cocaine use decreased by about 50 percent between 2002 and 2010.)

The reason for the resurgence of heroin is in large part due to it being less expensive than its prescription counterparts, and US officials now warn that narcotic painkillers are a driving force in the rise of substance abuse and lethal overdoses. According to the US Justice Department, prescription opiates and heroin are two of the most lethal substances available.

Prescription Narcotics—A Driving Force in Rising Substance Abuse

This connection finally received some media attention following the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a 46-year-old Oscar-winning actor. He died from heroin overdose on February 2. Last year, Hoffman entered rehab when addiction to prescription painkillers led him to switch to heroin.

US Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced his office is taking steps to address the problem head-on. This effort includes but is not limited to tracking drug overdose trends, educating health care professionals and the public about prescription drug abuse, and promoting programs shown to prevent such abuse.

The federal government will also require manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting opioids to provide prescribers with educational programs explaining the risks and benefits of opioid therapy, and how to select appropriate candidates for such therapy. Also, as reported by Reuters:

“As part of that campaign, Holder reiterated the Obama administration's call for more law enforcement agencies to train and equip personnel with an overdose-reversal medication called naloxone… Holder said 17 states and the District of Columbia have amended their laws to increase access to naloxone, a blocking agent that can reverse the effects of an overdose and help restore breathing.”

Doctors Are the Primary Opium Pushers of the 21st Century

According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, while most opioid drug abusers obtain the drug from a friend or relative, (23 percent pay for them; 26 percent get them for free), individuals who are at greatest risk for drug abuse are just as likely to get theirs from a doctor's prescription.

Previous drug abuse prevention programs have primarily focused on those who get their hands on opioids without a prescription. You may recall ads from previous years promoting the safe storage and disposal of prescription medication.

But such efforts have completely missed those at greatest risk for a drug overdose, i.e. those who use such drugs per doctor's orders. Twenty-seven percent of the highest-risk users get their drugs from their doctor even when they're using the drug nonmedically for 200 or more days per year… CDC Director Tom Frieden M.D., M.P.H recently echoed the study's authors when he said that:

“Many abusers of opioid pain relievers are going directly to doctors for their drugs. Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously by checking past records in state prescription drug monitoring programs. It's time we stop the source and treat the troubled.”

Another JAMA study notes that, of the drug overdose deaths occurring in Tennessee between 2003 and 2010, more were caused by prescription drugs than heroin and cocaine combined. Incredibly, between 2007 and 2011, one-third of the population of Tennessee filled at least one prescription for an opioid each year… According to the authors:

“High-risk use of prescription opioids is frequent and increasing in Tennessee and is associated with increased overdose mortality. Use of prescription drug–monitoring program data to direct risk-reduction measures to the types of patients overrepresented among overdose deaths might reduce mortality associated with opioid abuse.”

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