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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Link Between Heroin and Prescription Opioids

While it may seem apparent that the heroin scourge in America is directly linked to the prescription opioid epidemic, little research is available which ties the two together. The prescription drug epidemic resulted from rampant over prescribing and little oversight; for nearly twenty years it was cheap and easy for people to go to multiple doctors for highly addictive narcotics, such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone).

Government crackdowns, while on the surface, appeared to combat the problem with the closures of pill mills and prescription drug monitoring programs. In reality, little progress was made in addressing the underlying problem of addiction in America. Merely cutting off the source only forces an addict to find an alternative channel. In fact, from 2008 to 2011, in the years when serious government efforts began, there was a 75 percent increase in heroin use among Caucasians who abused prescription painkillers, HealthDay reports.

Researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that among almost everyone who used prescription opioids frequently had an increased risk of ever injecting heroin, as well as abusing or being dependent on heroin. The findings come from analyzing data of 67,500 people who fielded questions about their heroin use.

“The noteworthy increase in the annual rate of heroin abuse or dependence among non-Hispanic whites parallels the significant increase in nonmedical opioid use during the last decade and the growing number of heroin overdose deaths described for this race and ethnic group in recent years,” said lead researcher Silvia Martins, MD, PhD.

“Overall, our results suggest a connection between opioid and heroin use and heroin-related adverse outcomes at the population level, implying that frequent nonmedical users of prescription opioids, regardless of race or ethnicity, should be the focus of public health efforts to prevent and mitigate the harms of heroin use.”

The findings were published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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