12-Feb-15 9:30 AM  CST

Opioid Users May Turn to more Dangerous Addictions

Abuse of prescription painkillers like Oxycontin are leading to greater numbers of heroin users according to an article written in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). Heroin use in the United States is not a news story that startles anyone, but this most recent article may surprise some.

Heroin and Oxycontin are both derived from the poppy plant, and both are highly addictive. Heroin is a Scheduled I drug per DEA regulations and therefore is illegal in the US and has no medical purpose. Oxycontin is a Scheduled II drug per DEA regulation, is legal and is used to control pain. Both of these drugs are highly addictive and once the user is “hooked” they typically need to continue use in order to sustain everyday life. The problem is that Oxycontin will eventually become difficult for the user to obtain. When a patient’s physician stops prescribing the painkillers many will turn to illegal methods of obtaining the drug. A 60mg tablet of Oxycontin can cost upward of $60 a tablet on the street, so the cost of obtaining the drug becomes an issue. It is from this point that the addict usually turns to heroin.

Heroin is far less expensive than Oxycontin; less is needed to obtain a high, and unfortunately, is easily obtained in most cities and towns in the US. While we might be led to believe that the typical heroin user is living on the street and has a savory past, this is not necessarily true. Heroin is becoming the drug of choice for white, middle class suburbanites. The illegal use of heroin is increasing in white, rural areas as well. Most of those within this demographic of heroin abusers got their jumpstart from abuse of prescription painkillers and when they could no longer obtain them, turned to heroin.

Sadly, the number of deaths associated with heroin addiction and overdose is also continuing to rise. Some believe that tighter regulations need to be placed on those prescribing Schedule II painkillers, such as Oxycontin. If there is a decrease in the number of people becoming addicted to legal painkillers then the theory is that the number of heroin addicts will decrease as well.




Gupta, S. (2015), “Unintended consequences: Why painkiller addicts turn to heroin” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/health/gupta-unintended-consequences/index.html, retrieved 12. February 2015

Kuehn, B. (2015), “Driven by prescription drug abuse, heroin use increase among suburban and rural whites” JAMA, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1886185, retrieved 12. February 2015


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Source: Sandy Andrews  

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