A mother enters her 20 year old daughters bedroom, realizing the morning grows late and her daughter has yet to make an appearance. A bubble of fear in her chest grows at the unease and worry of what she may find behind her daughters bedroom door. That worry becomes undiluted terror as she processes the scene: her beautiful child, peacefully tucked in with a serene expression, but lips lined blue from one last kiss of a heroin high. The mother hangs over a precipice, grappling to reconcile the chasm that has torn her world apart. A brief sequence flashes across her mind and she remembers back to where it all began: a broken ankle and a written prescription for Vicodin.
Sadly, this scenario is not fiction in classification. It’s a real problem sweeping the U.S. and with this tidal wave comes an undercurrent that brings with it a distinct and valid question: Do prescription opioids lead to heroin abuse? The answer? Yes. They can.
While opioid and heroin addiction are comprised of many factors, there remains a consistent chain of events that directly correlates prescription drug usage with future use of and addiction to heroin. A timeline can be drawn for the 20 year old girl who has passed and many patients and addicts alike can find themselves at various points on this timeline if they follow along.
For years doctors prescribed opioids for acute injuries or short term surgical recoveries. Mostly innocuous, those prescriptions effectively treated the moderate to high pain of the patient. The turn of events came when pharmaceutical companies began pushing out stronger alternatives, studied doctor’s writing habits, and made false claims to the medical community on the safety of these potent medications. Incentives (known as “kickbacks”) were paid to doctors for writing their brand.
With these trends came a higher rate of addiction and an influence that “Big Pharma” should never have had. The uptick in writing opioids caused need for a new community of providers who specialized in treating pain when general practitioners were no longer comfortable with writing these habit forming medications.
Over time, opioid addiction grew, and guidelines for writing them became more stringent. Patients were sometimes cut off abruptly, often from being dropped by their doctors for failed urine screenings, or after the discovery of over usage. These former patients were left with two options: detox, or find a way to continue using.
While a percentage went on to shed their dependence on opioids, many turned to buying pills off the street to sustain their needs. Buying pills illegally, however, is costly, and soon a large number of people could no longer afford to support their habit this way. Seemingly convenient albeit life risking, heroin provided a far more potent alternative at a fraction of the price.
As we’ve devastatingly witnessed these last few years, the number of people making the jump from pills to hardcore heroin continues to rise, and with catastrophic consequences; the loss of friends, acquaintances, sons…and daughters.