Heroin and prescription drugs have a lot in common. Heroin itself is an opioid. Opioids are a class of the fastest-growing addictive substances in the United States. Prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin have created an epidemic resulting from prescription drug misuse.
Heroin has robbed thousands of lives, and the powerful drug still has a firm grip on millions more. Between 1999 and 2019, more than 500,000 people died from an opioid overdose. These statistics include both heroin and prescription drugs, either issued by a doctor or obtained illegally.
We see the most startling figure to date is the increase in opioid-related deaths juxtaposed against decreasing heroin-related deaths. Does this mean people with heroin addictions have received treatment and all sobered up? Unlikely. Instead, the probability is higher that they have begun to combine heroin with other opioids or use them exclusively.
Misuse Of Heroin Is Increasing
Statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) reveal that emergency room visits for prescription drug misuse are rising. Every day, over 1,000 people end up heading into the ER for prescription opioid abuse.
Deaths related to heroin are also increasing. Opioid deaths are becoming more prevalent among those who also had a history of heroin use. There are also cases of people who begin abusing heroin after developing an addiction to prescription medication they can no longer access. In the past, the addictive properties of these drugs were unrecognized by pharmaceutical companies, which led to millions of doctors prescribing them in large quantities without realizing their threat.
When the sedating effects of prescription opioids became well known, they began to gain value in the illegal market. People started taking them for recreational purposes the same way they abused other depressants, including heroin.
Why Are People Turning to Heroin?
People who take prescription opioids are at risk of developing an addiction. They may have every intention of following their doctor’s orders and only taking the quantity prescribed. However, the nature of these medications makes them challenging to quit, often leading to prescription drug misuse. If a person takes the drugs for even a short period, they can develop a physical dependency that may also turn into a mental addiction.
When someone is no longer able to take drugs in quantities, they may look for alternatives to ease their cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The most common illegal opioid people take when they cannot access prescription medication is heroin. Like other opioids, heroin affects the brain’s ability to sense pain and regulate mood. People can develop a deep sense of calm and well-being after taking heroin. The neurotransmitter dopamine brings on this feel-good effect.
When dopamine is released, the brain essentially tells a person that a specific action taken is sound. This reward encourages people to partake in other behaviors, even ones as simple as eating. When dopamine wears off, people experience a noticeable downturn in their mood. A more severe side effect is to suffer from withdrawal symptoms related to their drug of choice. To ease the discomfort and avoid any unpleasant emotions or physical side-effects, they return to the drug. More dopamine is released, and the behavior continues. Due to these factors, the cycle of addiction continues for so long.
What Can Be Done for Prescription Drug Misuse?
Heroin and prescription drug abuse do not have to become a death sentence. With the proper treatment, rehab can help a person break free from heroin addiction and lead life sober. Getting help for heroin addiction can prevent an overdose, prescription drug abuse, and other addictions from forming.
In addition to helping people cope with the problematic symptoms of heroin detox and withdrawal, rehab enables you to gain freedom. You learn how addiction works and the ways it personally hinders your life. Rehab also helps people confront problems that may be an underlying cause of seeking out the use of drugs outside of their intended purpose. Drugs can act as a coping mechanism for past traumatic experiences, chronic pain conditions, and mental illnesses.
If you or someone you know is wrestling with a heroin addiction or prescription drug misuse, know that it is never too late to get help. Reach out and learn more about treatment options. It is the first step toward reclaiming life from addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact your locate hospital or call Ocean Hills Recovery for help.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.