In recent years, new trends in substance abuse have emerged. In just six years, the number of people who tried heroin for the first time nearly doubled. What is most unnerving is the fact that nearly 80 percent of today’s heroin users were first exposed to the drug after using prescription drugs. For most people, that was a completely valid and legal use of the medication. Doctors frequently prescribe painkillers to treat numerous ailments; however, even when these medications are taken as prescribed, their powerful effects can lead to dependency and addiction. When the prescription drugs run out, many turn to heroin to get their fix. The most popularly prescribed prescription painkillers are all opioids-which is what heroin is classified as like heroin—making the recent surge in heroin addiction understandable.
Why do people turn to Heroin? How Prescription Drugs Can Lead Many to Heroin Addiction
It may be difficult for some to understand why someone would turn to heroin after developing a dependency on prescription drugs. Because prescription drugs are recommended by doctors to treat ailments various, they are generally considered “safe.” However, the dangers associated with heroin abuse are widely known. Surprisingly, heroin and opium used to be prescribed to treat conditions in the nineteenth century, but that quickly changed. Still, heroin’s effects are identical those of prescription painkillers because it works by blocking the signals that tell us when we feel pain. While it does not change pain itself, it does change how we perceive it. Users of both heroin and prescription opioids frequently experience euphoria or a false sense of well-being, which can be addictive.
Understanding the Dangers of Prescription Opioid Abuse
Still, people generally understand the dangers of heroin better than they do the risks associated with prescription drug use. Opioids create dependencies so quickly and easily that it can be difficult to continue accessing them once a prescription is completed. While some may engage in doctor-shopping to try to navigate that obstacle, manufacturers have also taken steps to change the formulation of painkillers, making them more difficult to abuse. This, in conjunction with the high cost of opioid medications, is when heroin begins to become a more desirable choice.
Heroin’s side effects make it an ideal choice for those looking to get the same high they would from painkillers, but at a fraction of the cost. Painkillers can cost anywhere between $60 to $100 per pill, and considering many people will require numerous doses throughout the day, it becomes an incredibly expensive habit. Heroin, on the other hand, can cost as little as $10 a bag, making it much easier to afford. It also tends to be easier to thanks to the crackdowns implemented by prescription monitoring programs.
Although many are aware of the dangers associated with heroin abuse, its ease of use, low cost, and ready availability make it difficult for those with an addiction to say ”no.” As prescription rates continue to rise, rates of heroin abuse will follow suit. Many experts suggest that heroin abuse is reaching epidemic levels and demands immediate attention.
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When Does Prescription Drug Use Become Abuse?
While the statistics are alarming, not everyone who uses prescription painkillers will develop an addiction. Even those who misuse prescription drugs for a short period of time may not fall into the grips of addiction. There are numerous risk factors that may increase the likelihood of dependency developing. These include:
- Genetic predisposition: Those with family members who struggle with addiction are more likely to develop an addiction themselves. This may be due to inheriting genes that may make you more susceptible to it, or it may be due to early exposure and normalization of use. Regardless of the reason, family history tends to play a big role in the development of addiction. While having a family history of addiction does not condemn a person to the same fate, it can increase their risk factor.
- Those who have experienced trauma: People with a history of trauma such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are more likely to develop an addiction. Trauma may include a life-changing moment such as the loss of a parent or witnessing a traumatic event. Substance abuse often goes hand-in-hand with trauma and drug use becomes a way to cope with the aftermath. Whether someone suffers from stress, anxiety, or a lack of support, drugs can seem like a quick and easy way to escape uncomfortable feelings and forget.
- Those with mental health conditions: Research suggests that 6 out of 10 people with an addiction also struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder. Prescription painkillers in particular can produce side effects that may make a person feel better when dealing with symptoms of a mental condition. Depression, anxiety, and stress can all disappear with the euphoric effects of heroin or other opioids, making them highly addictive. Many use drugs as a form of self-medication, but they often exacerbate symptoms of existing conditions and may contribute to the development of new ones.