Prescription Opioids Lead to Heroin Addictions and Death

Prescription opioids are leading to heroin addiction and death across the United States. Addiction to opioids is affecting Americans of all ages … from teens to the elderly. Even famous, successful people are dying because of these dangerous drugs.   With the dramatic increase in deaths from opioids, as well as skyrocketing heroin addictions, isn’t it time we put stronger restrictions on their use?

opioid-painkillers-@RepTomMarino - Prescription opioids lead to heroin addiction and death

Have physicians become the leading cause of drug addiction in the United States?  Increasingly, that seems to be true.  According to SAMHSA, 80 percent of new heroin users initially became addicted to prescription opioids before moving to heroin, which is much cheaper and easier for them to purchase than illegal prescription painkillers.

Addicts claim that the high from heroin, which is an illegal opioid, is almost identical to what they experience with prescription opioids, so the transition seems a natural one and often occurs after physicians cut off a patient’s access to prescription painkillers. The physician usually believes that they have done the right thing by not prescribing more opioids.  They do not realize that the patient will simply shop around for other doctors who will prescribe additional medications to them … or the patient will switch to heroin.

Sadly, the longer people use opioids, whether they are legal or not, the more likely they are to become addicted, suffer side effects and, in some cases, die.

Celebrities Who Have Died From Overdoses of Either Prescription Opioids or Heroin

Sadly, deaths from prescription opioids and heroin include people in all walks of life and every economic situation.  Among some of the better known celebrities who have died from these drugs are:

Philip Seymour Hoffman – heroin (unconfirmed, but strongly suspected)

Prince – prescription opioid (unconfirmed, but strongly suspected)

Cory Monteith – heroin combined with alcohol

Derek Boogaard – oxycodone (opioid) combined with alcohol

Heath Ledger – oxycodone, hydrocodone (opioids) combined with other drugs

Ordinary people are becoming addicted and dying, also, as described so well in the story below:

What are Opioid Painkillers?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are medications that relieve pain and are derived from opium.  Common generic and brand names of these drugs are hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (Kadian, Avinza), and codeine.

The NIDA website describes their uses in this way:

“Hydrocodone products are the most commonly prescribed for a variety of painful conditions, including dental and injury-related pain. Morphine is often used before and after surgical procedures to alleviate severe pain. Codeine, on the other hand, is often prescribed for mild pain. In addition to their pain relieving properties, some of these drugs—codeine and diphenoxylate (Lomotil) for example—can be used to relieve coughs and severe diarrhea.”

When reading the description of their uses, they sound harmless enough.  In fact, they almost sound benign, as if they are simply a stronger version of aspirin or Tylenol.  However, the true results of these prescriptions can be devastating.

Families are Being Destroyed by Opioid Drugs

As a member of Al-anon for the past 35 years, this author has seen a significant change in the types of problems that bring people to meetings of Al-anon, an organization established to give emotional support to the families and friends of alcoholics and drug addicts.

In the 1980s and 1990s, parents often came to Al-anon because their spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or parent had a problem with alcohol abuse.  Sometimes, they had a teenager or adult child with an alcohol or drug problem, as well.

Today, more and more people are joining Al-anon because they have a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, parent or child with an addiction to painkillers or heroin.  Over time, the addiction causes marriages and relationships to crumble.   Some people end up in rehab, jail, the hospital and, unfortunately, many of them ultimately die.

Far too often, the problems began after a patient had an accident or surgery and they were prescribed opioid painkillers by their surgeon or family physician.  Their own doctors turned them into addicts!

Senior Citizens Have Become Addicts, Too

Many people assume that addiction is something that only happens to teens or young adults.  With the increase in the number of doctors prescribing opioids, addiction has actually become a serious problem for senior citizens, as well.

According to an article in the AARP Bulletin, between 1993 and 2012, there was a 500 percent increase in the number of people between the ages of 45 and 85 who were hospitalized for prescription pain medications.

During the same time period, there was a 700 percent increase in the number of people between the ages of 55 and 64 who died from overdoses!  The highest overall number of deaths were for people between the ages of 45 and 55. In fact, they had four times the overdose death rate of teens and young adults!

Experts suspect that the death rate from opioid prescription overdoses may be larger than we know, since many deaths in the elderly are assumed to be from “natural causes.”

When people realize the risks posed by prescription painkillers, some are telling their doctors they would rather feel a little pain than risk addiction.  Unfortunately, too many people are not aware of the risks and their doctors are not fully informing them.  Sometimes, the doctor simply prescribes Vicodin or Percocet and the patient does not realize that these are opioids and that they are dangerously addictive.

Physicians are Prescribing Stronger Opioids Than Ever Before

Some of the drugs that are given to patients, such as Fentanyl, are up to 50 times stronger than heroin.  Consequently, when the drugs are withdrawn, the addicted patients take enormous amounts of heroin in order to try to get the same effect … often leading to overdoses:

Tragic Family Story about Opioid Addiction

The true story below, shared by contributor Michelle Harlow, is an example of what experts are seeing repeated daily across this country:

“My mother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction from a young age. In the 60’s it wasn’t something to talk about, so her drug use became pretty pronounced. Two decades and four pregnancies (three live births) later, she lost custody of us and went into rehab in order to get us back. She managed to stay off alcohol to this day, but they started giving her prescription drugs in the late 80’s/early 90’s for pain. Her addiction got so bad she was soon seeing multiple doctors and injecting herself daily. She physically abused her 5 year old grandson, but was so high she doesn’t remember it.

“She did her time in Chino correctional women’s prison and when she got out the doctors put her right back on painkillers. Eventually she couldn’t care for herself after my dad passed away and we had to put her in a nursing home. She’s still there, on such a high dose of morphine she doesn’t recognize us much and when she does she can’t stay lucid very long. They can’t lower her dose because her heart couldn’t take the withdrawal symptoms so she’ll be an addict until she dies.”

Statistics on the Addiction Rate in the U.S.

As reported in the recent article “Prescription Pain Pills: Rx for Abuse, Addiction, Death,” the number of people becoming addicted to opioids in the U.S. is mind boggling.  Approximately 2.1 million people in the U.S. are addicted to prescription opioids and another 467,000 people are now addicted to the illegal opioid, heroin.  People who become addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to be become addicted to heroin.

20/20 Documentary – “Breaking Point: Heroin in America”

Learn more about the epidemic of heroin abuse in the United States and how it traces its roots to the increase in the number of doctors prescribing opioid painkillers.  Watch the video below and then ask yourself, “Isn’t it time to severely restrict the use of opioid painkillers?”

(Photo credit for pills:   twitter. com/RepTomMarino/status/720350880705458176)

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  1. Deb Jones

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