Heroin is being used more and more, and a lot of times individuals who get addicted to heroin initially start using it because they have become addicted to prescription pain medication. Studies have shown that individuals who abuse painkillers like OxyContin are 19 times more likely to get also abuse heroin. It has also been reported that 8 out of 10 people who use heroin, first abused painkillers. This is why painkillers are called ‘gateway’ drugs.
Both heroin and painkillers are opioids. What do opioids do? They attach themselves to opioid receptors which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, intestines and other organs. When the opioids attached to these receptors are heroin or painkillers, they decrease the feeling of pain, as well as making a person feel relaxed and happy. This can lead to the abuse of the drugs.
Growing evidence suggests that individuals who abuse prescription pain pills are shifting to heroin as painkillers have started to become less available and more expensive. For instance, a recent increase in heroin use accompanied a downward trend in OxyContin abuse. As the individual develops a tolerance toward prescription pain pills, and then finds that it is increasingly difficult to obtain the medication illegally, may also in some cases explain the transition to abuse of heroin, which is cheaper and in some communities easier to obtain than prescription medications.
With so many people suffering from addiction to pain pills, state legislatures, law enforcement and medical regulatory agencies are taking measures to crack down and prevent the drugs from being abused or falling into the wrong hands. One example is the implementation of statewide prescription monitoring programs which keep track of how many painkiller prescriptions that doctors write. This makes it harder for unscrupulous physicians to operate as “pill mills,” selling prescriptions to people who want to get high. The drugs are now significant far more difficult to come by, whereas heroin can easily be found.
There are many negative effects of opioids. An individual who abuses heroin and painkillers can experience:
As a matter of fact, taking just one large dose of painkillers or heroin could cause the individual to stop breathing, leading potentially to death.
Both prescription pain pills and heroin are extremely hard to stop once an individual has formed an addiction. An individual trying to quit abusing painkillers or heroin usually goes through severe withdrawal, which can cause restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps, and involuntary leg movements.
While not everyone who abuses painkillers graduates to using heroin, it is important to remember that even painkiller abuse alone can hurt an individual. Opioid drugs of all kinds can be very addictive. Prescription pain pills are so widely abused throughout the United States that overdose on pain meds now kills more Americans than both heroin and cocaine combined.
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