15 Oct Heroin Use Tied to Medical Opioid Abuse
Heroin use is up
Over the past decade, the amount of people who use heroin has drastically increased 63%. This is a highly disturbing trend that cannot be allowed to continue. Heroin is, far and away, the most fatal of all popular drugs, and is highly addictive and challenging to kick. The relapse rate for those who are recovering from heroin addiction is an incredible 90%! This is already troubling enough, but these addictions are usually deeper rooted if the addict is also addicted to pharmaceutical opioids.
Connection with prescription opioids
Currently, a staggering 45% of American heroin addicts are also addicted to prescription opioids. This is not exactly a surprising thing, considering that heroin is synthetically created by using the dried latex byproduct of opium poppy plants. Many people take prescription opioids because they are a powerful painkiller, due to the analgesic properties of the opium poppy plant. The belief now, however, is that these opioids are providing a gateway drug through which addicts are getting further and further addicted until they eventually get hooked on heroin. The switch for this may simply be the addict is looking for a stronger high, but it could also be, ironically, that they are being turned away for their prescriptions, and turning to street drugs, which are vastly more dangerous.
Fighting is epidemic is incredibly challenging. The problem with cutting off access to prescription opioids outright is that addicts will likely find other ways to fuel that high, which could turn them to heroin bought on the streets. Many experts say that the answer is more training for pharmacists, who have direct contact with the patients as they fill their prescriptions. The law puts a certain amount of responsibility on pharmacists to make sure that medications are being used legitimately. However, rather than turning away the patients, new training would teach pharmacists to recognize signs of addiction and how to spot concerns. In these cases, pharmacists are advised to have a small intervention with the patient, so they can recommend treatment options.
Ben Harris is a Substance Use Disorder Counselor and began working in substance abuse treatment in 1987. During the past 25 years, he has worked in in-patient, residential, wilderness, intensive out-patient, and out-patient adolescent and adult programs. He has spent the majority of those years in management positions including executive director and national director responsible for the safe and effective operations of several programs. He has also served as president of the Utah Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors and on national committees with NAADAC and ICRC.